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2008 04 10
Failing Economics II

Hey -- what’s with the partial nudity?

That’s just how Robert Nadeau regards economists. Because, according to his recent article in Scientific American, economists are scientifically ignorant. That’s why, on his view,
Unscientific assumptions in economic theory are undermining efforts to solve environmental problems.
Essentially, Nadeau’s argument isn’t that economic theories are inconsistent. Only absurdly incomplete. As if mainstream economists were describing nothing but straight narrow portions of spectacularly long winding roads. Thus, particularly when it comes to ecological impacting, economists mislead us. Their theories can’t lead us anywhere we need to go.

Economic theories are misleading rather than explanatory due to how absurdly incomplete they are. Nadeau is calling for economic upgrades:
Because neoclassical economics does not even acknowledge the costs of environmental problems and the limits to economic growth, it constitutes one of the greatest barriers to combating climate change and other threats to the planet. It is imperative that economists devise new theories that will take all the realities of our global system into account.
Some economists might not take Nadeau’s threat to tinker economics lying down, though. “Bender”, for instance, commented that,
In an article purportedly discussing economic analysis and environmental policy neither externality nor externalities ever appeared! I don’t know which is more depressing, that someone could be stupid and ignorant enough to produce this tripe or that the Scientific American has sunk so low as to publish it.
How pedantic. That's exactly what Nadeau's talking about -- how overwhelming economic externalities like ecology are getting. But Nadeau not utilising the specific terms “Bender” recognizes resulted in “Bender” utterly missing Nadeau’s point. Standard economic theories mislead us precisely because environmental crisis constitutes such overwhelming externality.

Nadeau’s right, of course. We are rushing full steam and toxic waste to being overwhelmed. Not just economically.

But should economists seek to internalize theoretically and factually overwhelming externalities like environmental crisis? No. By no means. Absolutely not. There is no economic solution to our problems. Rather, let’s better appreciate how limited and incomplete economic theories are -– and let’s start looking way past economics for what it means to be more natural. What it means to be at all natural.

Can we do that? Toronto living is just about the most economically affluent anywhere –- ever. We expect some economic turbulence ahead. Will we be willing to look past it –- for what it means to be more natural? Or do we remain forever fixated on economic maximizing -- regardless how affluent we get? Regardless the cost to everything natural so precariously remaining?

[Peter Fruchter teaches in the Division of Humanities at York University.]

Screenshot from here.
[email this story] Posted by Peter Fruchter on 04/10 at 02:11 PM

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