Environmental Protection and Economic Well-Being: The Economic Pursuit of Quality

By Thomas Michael Power | Go to book overview

Chapter One

The Power and Mystique of Economics:
Sharing the Power, Eliminating the Magic

1. The Misdefinition of Economics

When economics or the economy is mentioned, most people immediately think of commercial business activity, dollar flows of income, jobs, and markets. They also think in terms of quantities: numbers of jobs, dollars of income, and prices. Economics, in ordinary thinking, is the quantitative weighing of dollar costs and commercial values.

The common perception is that qualitative concerns about the noncommercial or nonbusiness aspects of our lives are "noneconomic." Thus, concerns about the preservation of natural areas or wildlife, about the quality of the air or water, or about the character of our communities are thought of as noneconomic, aesthetic, moral, or political concerns.

This book will attempt to show that nothing could be further from the truth. Economics, even market-oriented economics, is mainly about the provision or protection of qualities. Individuals' and groups' subjective judgments about quality dominate all economic activity. Ultimately, economics is not primarily about business, money, and markets. Its focus is far broader than that. In fact, a narrow, quantitative, market definition of economics so grossly distorts economic analysis that it ceases to be a safe or reliable guide to public economic policy. Only if economics is forced beyond these conventional limits is it actually useful.

This chapter outlines the general problems with which this book will attempt to deal, namely the destructive impact of that narrow, market-oriented, quantitative definition of economics. It then outlines the approach we will take to demonstrate the dominant role quality and noncommercial resources play in determining economic welfare. Finally, this broader approach is applied to the analysis of the local economy and the determinants of local economic well-being.


2. The Power of Economics

There is power in the. language and concepts of economics, a power that intimidates and manipulates. Corporate executives and vulgar Marxists alike insist that

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