thenextwave

The principles of sustainable economics

Posted in economics, emerging issues, global, poverty, sustainability by thenextwavefutures on 19 February, 2008

This will mostly be familiar material to anyone who’s been following the arguments about sustainable economics, or is familiar with the critiques of the limitations of neo-classical economics, but nonetheless there’s a useful seven-point summary (really six) at the WorldWatch Institute site. Two points to highlight are the emerging potential of the commons as a model for managing resources, and the way in which poverty globally is highly gendered.

The seven points are:

  • Scale: How big is the global economy relative to the global ecosystem? In systems terms, the economy is a subsystem of the ecosystem. When it stops behaving like a subsystem (for example by starting to produce too much by way of damaging byproducts, such as carbon) problems follow.
  • Development is more important than growth: fulfilling needs effectively – including non-material needs – is more important, and increasingly more feasible, than growth.
  • Make prices tell the ecological truth: attach effective prices to the ecosystem.
  • Accounting for nature’s services: they have this as a separate point, but at high level it’s just the obverse of (3). What is pollination worth?
  • The precautionary principle: ‘Ordinary risk analysis asks, “How much environmental damage will be allowed?” But the precautionary principle asks, “How little damage is possible?”’
  • Commons management: Rather than manage resources through private property rights or government control, they can be looked after through application of principles of common ownership. [I think this is an emerging area; Peter Barnes has explored further how this works in terms of resources and sustainability].
  • Value women. ‘Economic systems ought to be gender-blind but they’re not. A UN report in the 1990s noted that “most poor people are women, and most women are poor.”’ I was really struck by this point, because it’s completely obvious when you spend a moment reflecting on it, and much development thinking now concentrates on it. But it’s easy to be blind to it.

There’s more in its latest report, State of the World 2008: Innovations for a Sustainable Economy. Chapter 1, from which this summary is taken, is available online.

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