Sunday, February 10, 2008


Kenneth Boulding once commented that “anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

Boulding’s assessment of economists can surely be confirmed by the following:

“Man has probably always worried about his environment because he was
once totally dependent on it.”
Fisher and Peterson
The Environment in Economics: A Survey, 1976

“A commitment to the welfare of human beings takes precedence over a
general devotion to the well being of the earth.”
Kevin Schmiesing, 2005
Center for Academic Research, Acton Institute

“If it is very easy to substitute other factors for natural resources,
then… the world can, in effect, get along without natural resources, so
exhaustion is just an event, not a catastrophe.”
Robert Solow
Nobel Economist

Economists at the [World Bank] meeting rejected the idea that resources
could be finite. Said one: “The notion that there are limits that can't
be taken care of by capital has to be rejected.” Science, 15 May 1987,

“We have in our hands now…the technology to feed, clothe, and supply
energy to an ever-growing population for the next seven billion years…”
Julian Simon
Economist and Presidential and Corporate advisor, 1995
Note: A population of 5.5 billion (1995) growing at .01% (the global
population today is increasing at 1.1%) for 7 million (with an M) years
would grow to 5.7 x 10^313 people. Physicist's estimate of the number of
atoms in the universe: 3 x 10^85

“There are no... limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are
likely to bind any time in the foreseeable future. There isn’t a risk of
an apocalypse due to global warming or anything else. The idea that we
should put limits on growth because of some natural limit, is a profound
error and one that, were it ever to prove influential, would have
staggering social costs.”
Lawrence Summers
Chief Economist of World Bank, 1991
Summers was also United States Secretary of the Treasury and President
of Harvard
Summers is famous for a leaked memo
( where he states, in
part "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in
the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."

"Because of increases in knowledge, the earth’s “carrying capacity” has
been increasing to such an extent … that the term “carrying capacity”
has by now no useful meaning.
Simon and Kahn

“It is really agriculture that is affected [by climate change]. But even
if agricultural productivity declined by a third over the next half
century, the per capita GNP we might have achieved by 2050 we would
achieve only in 2051.”
Thomas Schelling,
Nobel Laureate Economist
Some Economics of Global Warming (1992)

“Economic growth has gone on since the time of Pericles and there is no reason to suppose that it cannot continue for another 2500 years.”
Wilfred Beckerman
British economist

Cut down the last redwood for chopsticks, harpoon the last blue whale
for sushi, and the additional mouths fed will nourish additional human
brains, which will soon invent ways to replace blubber with olestra and
pine with plastic. Humanity can survive just fine in a planet-covering
crypt of concrete and computers…. There is not the slightest scientific
reason to suppose that such a world must collapse under its own weight
or that it will be any less stable than the one we now inhabit.
Peter Huber, 2000
Senior Fellow
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
(Technically, Huber is not an economist but he's talking as one!)

How can the foregoing idiocy be explained? Paul Ehrlich offered this answer: “The failure of conventional economics to contribute to a resolution of the human predicament is understandable from a cursory examination of what economists are taught. All one need do is look at the circular-flow diagram that ‘explains’ the generation of gross national product in any standard economics text. There are no inputs into the circular flow; it is simply a diagram of a perpetual-motion machine, an impossibility except in the minds of economists. Economics texts, of course, give no coverage at all to what is now the central question of economics: How big can the economic system be before it irretrievably damages the ecological systems that support it?

Ehrlich went on to say that “the majority of economists have never been taught that ecosystems provide humanity with an absolutely indispensable array of services, services that are ‘free’, but would, of course, be infinitely costly to replace. They are ignorant of the role that natural ecosystems play in regulating trace gases in the atmosphere, providing fresh water, generating soils, and preventing floods and droughts. Since they are unaware of the stress that natural systems are now under, most economists believe that the scale of economic activity can be increased indefinitely…”

Most economists, but not all. “One group at World Resources Institute has pioneered in developing a new method for measuring a nation’s economic performance that includes accounting for the depletion of natural resources such as wildlife, forests, fisheries, groundwater, and soils, as well as minerals, in national-income reports. This sort of accounting, if widely adopted, would provide a far more accurate picture of economic progress…” (from “Population Explosion”).

Indeed, not all economists are mad. Thomas Malthus, after all, was an economist, and he was not wrong, but simply ahead of his time. Now there is the transdisciplinary field of ecological economics which addresses the connection between human economies and natural ecosystems. Its focus is to determine how an economy can operate within ecological constraints. That is what economics should have been about all along.

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