Crunching Numbers for the Planet

| 4/22/2008 11:30:58 AM

Tags: environment, economics, growth, supply, demand, consumerism, capitalism, ecological economics, the Ecologist,

The kernel at the core of every conventional economic model is alluringly simple: Growth is good. But due in large part to our planet’s finite resources, this premise is fundamentally flawed, the April issue of the Ecologist points out in an enlightening group of stories dubbed “The Earth vs. the Economy” (articles not available online) that call into question everything we’ve been taught about goods and services, supply and demand.

“When Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, life was hard, the world vast and the supply depot of nature seemed without limit. . . . How could goods lead to anything but good?” writes Jonathan Rowe in the leadoff article, “The End of Economics.”

“More than two centuries later, that assumption no longer works. . . . The connection between wealth and weal, goods and good, has become increasingly frayed,” he posits. Rowe goes on to construct a withering critique of prevailing economic thought and describe the “epidemic of market-related disease” that is sickening both humans and the planet.

In subsequent articles, ecological economist Herman E. Daly puts forth the framework of a new economic model, and Andrew Simms points out that the current British recession (sound familiar?) may present “a good time for a rethink” of old assumptions. Simms reminds us that such thinking isn’t entirely new, or even all that radical: Forty years ago, he notes, Robert Kennedy famously pointed out that the GNP measures everything “except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Keith Goetzman