Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability: The Prospects for Green Growth

By Paul Ekins | Go to book overview

5

Accounting for production and the environment

5.1

THE CASE FOR ADJUSTING THE NATIONAL ACCOUNTS

At the end of Chapter 3 it was suggested that one of the reasons why the national accounts aggregates are a poor measure of production is because they fail to give an adequate account of uses of, and impacts on, the environment as a factor of production, or ecological capital in the terms of Figure 3.2 (p. 53). In this chapter this critique will be further developed and sug-gestions made as to how the national accounts should be adjusted to treat ecological capital consistently in the framework of the national accounts.

A standard introduction to the topic has defined national accounting thus: ‘National accounting is simply a systematic way of classifying the multitude of economic activities that take place in the economy in different groups or classes that are regarded as being important for understanding the way the economy works’ (Beckerman 1968:68). Beckerman acknowledges that ‘there is an arbitrary element in many of the decisions that have to be made in drawing up a classification system for the national accounts’, and is at pains to stress that there is nothing sacrosanct about the present way the accounts are structured:

It must be emphasised that there is a constant evolution and change in the questions the economists are asking, in the institutional structure of the economy, and in the working hypotheses that economists use for purposes of analysing the behaviour of the economy. In accordance with these changes so it will be necessary to modify and adapt the classification system used for national accounting. It would be useless to persist with a classification system, for example, that no longer corresponded to the institutional and social categories of society, or to the latest knowledge about how the economy operated and so about which relationships were important for analytical purposes…. It is to be expected that the appropriate national accounts classification will, as the years go by, be subject to far-reaching modifications.

(ibid.: 5-6)

-115-

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