The Environmental Endgame: Mainstream Economics, Ecological Disaster, and Human Survival

By Robert L. Nadeau | Go to book overview

7
A GREEN THUMB ON
THE INVISIBLE HAND
Environmental Economics
and Ecological Economics

In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what
we refuse to destroy.

JOHN C. SAWHILL

The prospects of displacing neoclassical economics with an environmen- tally responsible economic theory would be greatly enhanced if mainstream economists were willing to recognize and come to terms with a scientifi- cally valid truth—there is no basis in the neoclassical economic paradigm for realistically assessing the environmental costs of economic activities and internalizing these costs in pricing systems. The most expedient way to demonstrate that this is the case is to examine the manner in which neoclassical economists have attempted to graft a green thumb on the in- visible hand in a subfield called environmental economics.

Virtually all the economic solutions to environmental problems pro- posed by environmental economists are based on the mathematical formal- ism of general equilibrium theory. These economists, like other mainstream economists, rarely talk openly about the natural laws of economics that are foundational to this formalism, but they often make references to as- sumptions about economic actors implicit in the formalism. Economic actors are typically described as completely rational decision makers who invariably make choices that maximize their utility, or their economic sat- isfaction or well-being. But when we examine the manner in which these actors are actually described in the mathematical formalism appropriated from mid-nineteenth-century physics, these assumptions become more than a little problematic. In this formalism, the actors are depicted as point particles that move about and interact in an immaterial field of utility,

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