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An Economy That Does Not Consider Ecology Is Not Sustainable


An Economy That Does Not Consider Ecology Is Not Sustainable

Kristine Mattis

Have you ever noticed that economics dominates our news? All day long we hear reports on the Dow and NASDAQ. There are business sections of newspapers. Television and radio news includes market reports, financial reports, and money reports. Segments of major news programs are dedicated to economics and finance. We even have individual news programs and networks solely devoted to the discussion of money matters. Indeed, economics permeates the discourse on nearly every matter presented to the public.


Are we to condemn the existing poor to their hovels and poverty?

Socialists are seeking what some call a "steady-state economy" or "zero-growth" , a situation where human needs are in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilised at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. The point about such a situation is that there will no longer be any imperative need to develop productivity, i.e. to cut costs in the sense of using less resources; nor will there be the blind pressure to do so that is exerted under capitalism through the market. Technical research would continue and this would no doubt result in costs being able to be saved, but there would be no external pressure to do so or even any need to apply all new productivity enhancing techniques.

We can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero growth steady state society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. This could be achieved in three main phases.

First , there would have to be urgent action to relieve the worst problems of food shortages, health care and housing which affect billions of people throughout the world.
Secondly , longer term action to construct means of production and infrastructures such as transport systems for the supply of permanent housing and durable consumption goods. These could be designed in line with conservation principles, which means they would be made to last for a long time, using materials that where possible could be re-cycled and would require minimum maintenance.
Thirdly , with these objectives achieved there could be an eventual fall in production, and society could move into a stable mode. This would achieve a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs with no significant growth. On this basis, the world community could live in material well being whilst looking after the planet.

The problem for many in the Green movement is that they want to retain the market system in which goods are distributed through sales at a profit and people’s access to goods depends upon their incomes. The market, however, can only function with a constant pressure to renew its capacity for sales and if it fails to do this production breaks down, people are out of employment and suffer a reduced income. It is a fundamental flaw and an insoluble contradiction in the Greens argument to retain the market system and at the same time want a conservation society with reduced productive activity. These aims are totally incompatible with each other. Also what many Green thinkers advocate in their various version of a “steady-state” market economy, is that the surplus would be used not to reinvest in expanding production, nor in maintaining a privileged class in luxury but in improving public services while maintaining a sustainable balance with the natural environment. It’s the old reformist dream of a tamed capitalism.

“Capitalism can no more be ‘persuaded’ to limit growth than a human being can be ‘persuaded’ to stop breathing. Attempts to ‘green’ capitalism, to make it ‘ecological’, are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth. ” – Murray Bookchin


how can anything be sustainable if the human population keeps growing at current rates, another billion or so in just 12 years, and another billions to come. This can end by some resulting disaster, a world of endless want depicted in Soylent Green, or by making real efforts to slow it now. Unfortunately the economists only see unlimited growth and desire ever more consumers, the religious zealots only see the need to impose their religious dogma, and various nations, now including China, see a national relative advantage by promoting larger populations. Sad!


The title of this article STATES THE OBVIOUS!!


Although I was not an econ major, in 1972 I took a class with Professor Michael Perelman called Economics and Ecology that DID juxtapose the two. No other class I took as an undergrad or graduate influenced my world view the way that class did. One fact I recall is that each dollar of GDP created 6 pounds of trash in 1970…the root confirming just how GROSS the GDP is.

I took several other econ classes and none addressed ecology.

Dr. Perelman has written many books and continues to teach econ as far as I know.


While agreeing with many of the points in the article, it fails to look at the roots of the problem. Mattis asks “If it were indeed possible to have continued economic growth while protecting the environment, why wouldn’t industries have embarked on wholly sustainable ways of doing business years ago?” Not with an economic system grounded on profit that allows producers to externalize costs. The “efficiency” of markets is purely within the realm of producing monetary wealth. The environment is priceless, therefore worthless.

The only solution to the crisis we’re in is to change our economic system from one driven by profit to one designed to foster life.


As many in the thread have noted, markets are missing lots of information. Hayek himself argued that prices “encode” information. So, if you go to the market and one apple is 40 cents, another 60, the difference in price is conveying some information. Maybe the more expensive one is organic, maybe the wages paid to the workers that make the apples are higher, maybe it is from out of state and you are paying for increased shipping and storage costs. Whatever the case, Hayek said that prices and markets are ways of transferring information from different participants in the economy, which is true to an extent, but markets are missing information. And Hayek’s buddy, von Mises even noted that there are limits to monetization. He gave an example of a waterfall, and he said that the beauty of the waterfall, how it made a person feel, didn’t have a monetary value. He said that markets that contained all relevant information were “rational”, while those that didn’t weren’t. I say this because these are the far right Austrian types, and even they realized this stuff. Even neoclassical economists are coming around to this, after downplaying these impacts for decades. This means that there is a massive misallocation of resources. Too many things produced with negative non-market impacts, not enough of things produced with a positive non-market impacts. And even if markets could “internatlize” these non-market impacts, even if these impacts could be priced, literally everything would explode in price, which would by itself call for radical changes. Then there are the limits to growth in regards to throughput and pollution generation. Capitalism simply doesn’t function without growth, and there are limits to growth in regards to anything that uses resources and uses the environment as a sink for wastes. There are no limits to the growth in the financial and monetary part of the economy, which is another huge problem. Beyond that, even if we can establish sustainable limits of consumption and resource pollution, it is impossible for a chaotic and decentralized market system to operate within those limits without planning, which is not something capitalists would like. They associate national planning with socialist systems, which is accurate. So, a non-market system, with institutions created to work within a no-growth economic system, while controlling the growth of finance (which has no resource limits), that employs national economic planning. Call that capitalism if you want, but it isn’t capitalism, and the green groups that still attach themselves to capitalism as we know it should be shunned. They are leading us to doom too, even if at a slower pace.


With the increase in packaging through the years, I would bet money the ratio you cite from 1970, has increased since then. Sounds like a interesting class.


Like other creatures, we are supported by ecologies, not economies. I am glad to see Mattis bring this out.

However, notions of economy do determine, to a large extent, how that support is controlled and distributed. Where distribution is strikingly unequal, by whatever economic fantasy is held by the population or enforced among them, response to authentic matters of need, prominently including ecology, get hamstrung. The poor cannot much respond to ecology because they must get from the system some yield to keep going. The rich fail to respond because inequality motivates them to retain power at more or less whatever cost.

This relates to concerns that have been expressed here about population. Westerners often wonder why poor and particularly rural poor people have kids. But children and grandchildren are typically the wealth of the poor, as well as a blessing to them in all the usual ways. In areas where women are educated, elders cared for, and incomes and wealth just slightly closer to equal, growth of native populations slows and then slowly recedes.

The solution to population problems, then, is the economic egalitarianism that population-control advocates sometimes (though by no means always) wish to avoid.

Ecology need not be so far from our thoughts of provender, not at all if we can just disengage the artifice and distortion of money and credit systems and property from all of it–a pretty big if, admittedly.

It is actually the ecological characteristics of self-regulating complex systems that enable regenerative agriculture–and, thereby, indefinite and secure abundance.

This is not particularly difficult to set up, nor intrinsically a lot of work to maintain. It does seem to take some time and a bit of a learning curve to pull off in a practical way, mostly because proper practice flies in the face of a lot of standing assumption and conceptions.

We’d do way better starting before there’s a very major crash, though Cuba did manage to overcome such a crash with the fall of the Soviet Union in '89.


What you can’t do all at once, try doing piecemeal.

  1. New home developments and new construction should have energy and ecology criteria, just as new homes must comply with new plumbing and electrical codes historically.
  2. Education should include some heavy courses in ecology in all majors.
  3. Business licences, vehicular licences, all can have green requirements. There are some. There can be more.
  4. Packaging of certain kinds can be illegal.
  5. I heard that Obama took the plastic balls out of toothpaste. Toothpaste companies are still selling it in other countries. There needs to be more awareness worldwide of all detrimental practices.
  6. Communities can offer courses on green-ness.
  7. Promote positive green contributions. Give awards–green ones, preferably.


Shall we (continue to) dance? Around the single, most cogent reason for un-sustainability: babies. There are way more humans than the Earth can handle. At the present rate of population growth, no amount of tinkering with economy and ecology will mean sh*t.


The article says that “Software is inextricably tied to devices, all
of which are created to have limited life-spans and to be continually

That is true for today’s mobile devices, but it does not have to be
true. The companies bring about planned, forced obsolescence with
software that the companies can change and the users cannot change.

We already have the fix for that: free (libre) software.
See https://gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-even-more-important.html.