Putting the Ecch in "Eco-Economics"

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Over at the continually interesting Spiked, Daniel Ben-Ami, author the invaluable 2001 tome Cowardly Capitalism: The Myth of the Global Financial Casino, throws a flurry of haymakers in the direction of anti-growth environmentalists:

There is good reason why environmentalists are coy about attacking growth directly. For they realise that the benefits of economic growth—including better living standards, better health and greater longevity—are enormously popular with the public. Few individuals are likely to welcome a sustained cut in their standard of living.

The implementation of environmentalist economics means consigning most of the world's inhabitants to poverty. Even in the developed world there is still a long way to go before material want can be abolished. In the third world the consequences of 'sustainable development', holding back economic growth, are even starker.

Whole thing here.

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  1. The implementation of environmentalist economics means consigning most of the world’s inhabitants to poverty.

    This is utter nonsense. It’s a scare tactic, like Cheney saying that electing Kerry will get us nuked. There are plenty of rational arguments for environmental protection, just as there are plenty of rational arguments for industrial growth. Why must everything be reduced to such simplistic black-or-white reasoning? “Profit good. Clean air bad. Hulk smash.” Or, conversely, “Trees good. Multinational bad. Hulk smash.” It’s equally idiotic either way.

  2. If the environmental economic policies designed for the US (which most of them are) were put in place globally, and enforced equally, the third world countries would never get the chance to get out of the “rut” they are in.

    Better to let them develop economically first. When the Ugandans are well-off enough to get fat and lazy like us, then we’ll talk.

  3. So when the founding document of sustainable development, the statement from the 1992 Rio conference, identifies economic development as an absolute necessity for long-term environmental quality, when it expressly denounces the old “development = destruction” formulation and is attacked by old school hardcore greens for speaking about the need for wealth creation, and adopts that promotion of ED as a central strategy for achieving environmental goals, it’s actually a Jedi mind trick to throw y’all off the scent.

    That goodness we have the good people at Reason to tell us what environmentalists REALLY think.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go laugh at some undernourished Kenyans.

  4. joe:

    Just out of curiosity, what sorts of pro growth policies do environmentalists favor? I’m legitimately interested, because my anti green stance is firmly rooted in the belief that green policies are largely harmful growth killers.

    If I can be pro growth and green, I’m all about it.

  5. Jason, let me give you a couple of examples.

    Domestically, tourism is the largest industry in about half the states. Sustainable greens support policies designed to protect open spaces and environmental features with high tourism potential, as well programs to make these features more accessible and visible to the public. This strategy has been adopted internationally, too.

    Globally, greens are big supporters of “micro-loan” programs and co-ops designed to foster manufacturing/craft exports to the developed world based on traditional, sustainable practices. In areas in which the population is dependent on slash-and-burn agriculture or wood for fuel, sustainable greens support access to fertilizers and fuel in order to prevent deforstation. Old style greens would never support replacing wood and dung with oil and gas, because the older “traditional” fuels (nevermind that the way they are being used isn’t traditional at all) just HAD to be better than anything capital-intensive.

  6. JL,

    There is also some really innovative work being done to promote ownership of land among farmers in the developing world, in order to prevent commons-produced negligence and overwork by farmers who lack a long-term stake in its well-being.

    It’s too bad there’s so much knee-jerk anti-environmentalism among economic conservatives, and so much knee-jerk anti-capitalism among environmentalists. Stupid culture war is getting in the way of important work.

  7. There are plenty of rational arguments for environmental protection

    They just have not been invented yet.

    IDL

  8. Does the fact that this hack Beno-Ami has to dredge up discredited tomes from the 1970s in order to frame the beliefs of environmentalists the way he wants suggest anything to you about his understanding of environmentalist thought?

    The writer asserts that the concept of sustainable development revolves around the notion that economic growth has to be curtailed to protect the environment. In fact, the need to promote development in order to provide the resources necessary to protect the environment is the central plank of sustainabilty theor. That the author would misstate the very definition of the topic he’s covering pretty much tells you all you need to know about his comprehension of environmentalit thought.


  9. Globally, greens are big supporters of “micro-loan” programs and co-ops designed to foster manufacturing/craft exports to the developed world based on traditional, sustainable practices.

    To paraphrase PJ O’Rourke, that’s nice and all, but thriving world-class economies are not built around hand-knitted rugs. And to get into manufacturing in a big way, you tend to need deforestation, mining, dams, power plants, etc. – precisely the kind of thing Greens don’t seem to like, and without which nations are condemned to stay economic minors forever. Don’t get me wrong, I think microloan programs are a great idea. But I don’t see how they’re intrinsic to the “green” point of view. If we’re looking for an overall “green philosophy”, you and I both know that “microloan programs” is not it. Frankly, what I and a lot of other people react to is our perception that the “green philosophy” can be stated as “where preserving nature and development come into conflict, development loses.”

  10. JD, those were just a couple of examples, not meant to be exhaustive, that I provided to demonstrate the general thrust of the movement.

    “And to get into manufacturing in a big way, you tend to need deforestation…” Really? Is that what happened when America’s industrial capacity mushroomed during the 20th century – deforestation?

    You’re making the same silly, unsupportable assertion that early environmentalists, deep ecologists, and the author of this article make – that economic growth is directly proportional to environmental destruction. That just isn’t true. You don’t need to eat your seed corn – you’d be better to plant it. And the only way you’ll find yourself in a position where you might have to eat your seed corn is if you aren’t sufficiently prosperous to begin with.

    That is what sustainable development is all about. Working to make sure people have both the prosperity to save their seed corn, and the capacity to plant it.

  11. Enviornmentalists are being rational and consistent within their own philosophy in this regard. The birth rate is lower in affluent, industrialized countries, negative in some cases. Envoirnmentalist are recognizing that in practice, economic systems, like capitalism, that make affuence flourish also result in lower birth rates and less stress on the enviorment.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0220/p01s04-ussc.html

  12. Correction:

    “…is if you ARE sufficiently prosperous to begin with.”

  13. that economic growth is directly proportional to environmental destruction. That just isn’t true.

    To say they are directly proportional is one of those “Hulk smash” oversimplifications, sure. But if they’re entirely unrelated, to go to the other extreme, then why does environmental degradation happen at all? Because people like to degrade the environment, or because they’re stupid? Clearly there will always conflict between the two at times, unless we can create energy and goods out of nothing. Now, I agree that equating environmentalism with ludditism is incorrect, even if there are overlaps in the two philosophies and their attendant populations. But I think one has to accept that environmental protection will necessarily yield some degree of interference with growth, unless one is practicing wishful thinking.

  14. “To say they are directly proportional is one of those “Hulk smash” oversimplifications, sure. But if they’re entirely unrelated, to go to the other extreme, then why does environmental degradation happen at all?”‘

    Because there’s a right way and a wrong way to do economic growth. Because those whos profits involved environmental degradation are often allowed to pass off their externalities onto the larger society, creating profits for themselves while actually reducing wealth overall. Because short term thinking often supercedes long term thinking, which is another way of stating my second point, except using a time displacement rather than a space displacement. Because very large enterprises are often structured in such a way that running part of their operations at a loss costs them less money than shutting down their plants (power plants and very large construction companies come to mind).

    As with globalization-induced job loss, people often confuse the short-term pain of dislocation with long-term decline. You have only to look at the numerous former-logging towns, now tourist towns, in the Pacific northwest to understand the difference. Yes, reducing logging caused job loss when it happened. But now, many of these towns are doing better than they were fifteen years ago, and better than they would be today if their economy was still based on an industry in decline.

  15. joe,

    Your “because #2” I agree with, but while accounting for those externalities might be more fair and just, I don’t see how it can be done without interfering with economic growth.

    Your “because #’s 1, 3 and 4” say that people left to their own devices are stupid in ways that central planners can correct. Maybe we can convince someone to pay us full-time wages to argue this the rest of our lives, but in the meantime I’ll have to say, good luck! 🙂

  16. fyodor,

    It’s not “stupid” to pocket the profits and stick other people with the costs. It’s actually quite smart, if you’re the one doing the pocketing and the sticking.

  17. Joe says:
    “As with globalization-induced job loss, people often confuse the short-term pain of dislocation with long-term decline. You have only to look at the numerous former-logging towns, now tourist towns, in the Pacific northwest to understand the difference.”

    Joe the NIMBY.

  18. joe. NIMBY. I guess you’re too new to appreciate how funny that is.

    Welcome, JDOG, it’s a lot of fun on this board.

  19. “If I can be pro growth and green, I’m all about it.”

    See:

    http://www.rff.org/rff/Core/knowledgearea_summary.cfm?ka=9

    To say that environmental protection and economic freedom are opposites is flat wrong, whether coming from a ‘conservative’ or a whacked-out environmentalist. It is far more productive to fight against “command and control” environmentalists by showing how economic freedom and prosperity can lead to environmental benefits, rather than adopting a irrational knee-jerk anti-environment stance.

  20. Joe,

    I have no problem with the general idea of dealing with externailities, perhaps with taxes that would be offset with reductions in other taxes.

    But I’m rather skeptical that centralized planners are going to be able to pick which industries should be tanked and what route will have better long term results. But again, we could spend all day arguing that.

  21. Modern consumer capitalism is supposedly driven by innovation, adaptibility and the dynamism of free markets. These are traits I very much admire. So why is it that, repeatedly, I hear propoenents of global capitalism say that the only way to enrich the world is by digging up, chopping down and paving over everything, just as we’ve always done, because there is no better way, and anyone who dares suggest those methods are less than perfect is an “enemy of freedom” or whatever. Personally, I’d prefer it if we spent our energy on finding innovative ways to expand opportunity without destroying so much of the environment, rather than defending the status quo. And that’s all this reactionary anti-environmenalism is, really: A defense of the status quo.

  22. And ditto what dlc said.

  23. “There is also some really innovative work being done to promote ownership of land among farmers in the developing world, in order to prevent commons-produced negligence and overwork by farmers who lack a long-term stake in its well-being.”

    This is really inspiring. Why do the guys wanting to expand the forest service get all the press?

  24. “better living standards, better health and greater longevity – are enormously popular with the public”

    They hold, of course, no objective value to the eco-types…

  25. “I guess you’re too new to appreciate how funny that is.”

    I have been here quite a while Joe and I always read your posts for entertainment.

  26. “Why do the guys wanting to expand the forest service get all the press?”

    Perhaps because the press only pays attention to the environmentalists up in the tree – the ones with the nappy dred cap and stanking b.o. screaming about expanded forest service protections while insulting passers-by below.

    The nice economist in the suit talking about why private ownership is actually better for the environment is a pretty boring story in comparison.

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