Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment

Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment

Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment

Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment


'Partha Dasgupta is a very highly regarded economic theorist, and this book shows why. Dasgupta writes more clearly, and in a more acessible manner than most highly regarded economic theorists... this book has much to recommend it... elegant and incisive analysis.' -Journal of Public Policy'A very interesting and stimulating book.' -Journal of Economics'Exemplary exposition of the environment's role in fostering socio-economic advance as part of human well-being... enlightening from start to finish.' -Nature'Building on his classic magnum opus... Partha Dasgupta has joined this rethink in an intellectually rich, thought-provoking and occasionally metaphysical work. His new book probes many issues beyond those that might be anticipated from the title and confirms his position as one of the most exciting economic thinkers today... we can ask why so many feel we need reforms in ethical behaviour to ensure sustainability. Dasgupta touches on some of the framework needed to answer this question. More is needed. If anyone is going to supply it is is likely to be Dasgupta.' -Times Higher Education Supplement'Concepts like GDP focus on easily measurable things, whilst omitting ecosystem services and other environmental factors on which life ultimately depends. Partha Dasgupta is a seminal figure in his discipline, taking on the difficult, yet hugely important, task of trying meaningfully to measure 'quality of life'. This book will, I hope, set the tone for the new millennium, melding conventional economic concepts, ecological and environmental science, and a great deal of plain commonsense. Read it.' -Lord Robert May, University of OxfordIn Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment, Partha Dasgupta explores ways to measure the quality of life. In developing quality-of-life indices, he pays particular attention to the natural environment, illustrating how it can be incorporated, more generally, into economic reasoning in a seamless manner. Professor Dasgupta puts the theory that he develops to use in extended commentaries on the economics of population, poverty traps, global warming, structural adjustment programmes, and free trade, particularly in relation to poor countries. The result is a treatise that goes beyond quality-of-life measures and offers a comprehensive account of the newly emergent subject of ecological economics.


This essay is on measuring the quality of life, a problem on which I have worked periodically ever since becoming a student in economics. A few passages, from Chapters 6 and 14 , have even been lifted from my doctoral dissertation of 1968 (I have worked on the subject that long!). And there are chapters, particularly the Appendix, which report findings only a year or so old. The subject surrounding the problem is a complex one. One way or another, it pervades a number of disciplines. But the problem's relevance extends beyond the academic realm. International organizations routinely publish cross-country estimates of the quality of life, journalists and commentators publicize them, national governments are obliged to take note of them, non-governmental organizations criticize them, and intellectuals reflect upon them. Since much of the purpose of measuring the quality of life is to help search for ways to improve life's quality, the exercise reduces to valuing objects and evaluating policies. Today, quality-of-life indices broker political arguments and together form a coin that even helps purchase economic and social policy.

But the flurry of activity doesn't mean that the subject has progressed evenly. Since people have strong feelings about the matters involved, debates are often acrimonious. Moreover, intellectual training differs across the biological sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Findings are often misunderstood and are on occasion even misused. In shaping this essay I have been influenced by such incidents, and I offer illustrations when the occasion demands.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to attack the problems inherent in valuing and evaluating. One is to start at an abstract level and proceed to concrete problems, as and when abstract considerations yield results that are capable of being applied, or when they refuse to yield results. The other is to start with concrete problems, even mundane problems, and move towards abstraction, so as to check that the findings have general validity. Which route one follows is a matter of taste and ability. Personally, I find the latter route more congenial. The present essay traces that route.

Books are in part autobiographical. Over the years, a good deal of my own research has been to help develop the economics of environmental and natural resources. Much of that too has been in the context of poor regions and the people who inhabit them. Inevitably, I reacted adversely to the fact that the natural environment is absent from national accounts, from quality-of-life indices, and, more generally, from official development economics. I found it puzzling too that, in its turn, official environmental and resource economics have made

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