on 28 February 2014
I only downgraded this to 4 stars because it is pretty heavy going on the background and theory of economics.
The bottom line message is crystal clear though. The continued quest for ever more economic growth in every country in the world is chasing the impossible dream. Economists seem to have completely ignored the fact that all the resources upon which economic growth is founded - all the land, seas and air and everything we reap from them exist on a finite planet and are declining all the time as we consume them. Hencethe terms "Sustainable growth" and "sustainable development" that are so freely bandied about are compete and utter oxymorons. Such growth and development can only be sustained for increasingly shorter periods of time as all these natural resources decline an/or are damaged by all this growth.
I came away 100% convinced that the only way forward for humanity and civilistation to survive in the long term is to change our quest towards "steady state economies" ASAP.
This actually means aiming for zero net population growth and zero net consumption growth everywhere, on a rich to poor country contraction and convergence basis.
With over 7 billion people on the planet already right now, collectively still consuming at the rate of over 1.5 planets, and with a net global increase of around 75 million more consumers arriving on the planet every year, this is an extremely tall order!
It calls fora seismic change in human thinking and behaviour.
"Supply shock" is an apt title indeed.
on 4 March 2014
I wish everyone would read this book! It's about the new field of ecological economics, but it's easy to read and is in a conversational style, not like a textbook at all. It explains in detail why the current growth-based economy is environmentally unsustainable on a planet with finite resources and a growing population. It also debunks the techno-optimist myth that increased efficiency will solve the problem. It delves into social issues as well, like how it's socially unsustainable for the tiny global elite to command such vast wealth while billions languish in poverty, and how the trickle down effect of growth obviously isn't working. This eye-opening read ends with a proposed solution: a ''steady state'' economy, based on better not bigger - sustainable and equitable wellbeing rather than profit and growth in the GDP. I would recommend reading this book and then going on to read Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, which fleshes out the steady state idea in much more detail.
on 30 May 2014
I've always thought that a finite planet must necessarily put limits on the growth of the human economy - it seemed like common sense but I had no real idea of the issues involved, no grounding in economics and no idea of the alternatives. This book, which builds on the work of Herman Daly provides all that in a language accessible to the layman.
This is a book about ecological economics and the need for a steady state economy. In part it is a follow-up to and an expansion on Czech's "Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train" from 2000. (See my review at Amazon.) I can say that whatever your level of expertise and experience in economics, you do not want to miss this book. It is a very well informed and thought-provoking read on a subject of crucial importance in the world today.
Czech's qualifications for taking on the formidable task of researching and writing this book are excellent. He is an ecologist and an economist and a very bright guy who writes well. His obvious purpose in this book is to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that we can no longer blindly pursue economic growth at the expense of the environment. He especially wants us to understand that the idea (held by some economists) of unlimited growth is basically a fraud and a Ponzi scheme on our grandkids. Czech calls it "the myth of perpetual economic growth." (p. 251).
To make his case Czech gives a detailed history of the idea of both growth economics (mainly neoclassical growth theory) and steady state economics. In chapters three through five he discusses mainstream economic ideas from the eighteenth to the early part of the twentieth century. He compares the ideas of people like Henry George, Karl Marx, Francois Quesnay John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, Alfred Marshall, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and others, and how their ideas developed and affected policy. By the way, Mill advocated a "stationary" economic state and Czech has a nice long quote from Mill on pages 68-69 to document it.
In Chapter 9: "What Have You Done for Growth" Czech recounts the economic history following World War I up to the present time. The other chapters of the book are devoted directly to his thesis: the dire need for steady state economics in a "full world."
I recommend that most readers, who are interested in Czech's delineation of what ecological economics is all about and why it must replace neoclassical growth economics, skip the historical chapters 3-5 and most of 9 (except for the end where Czech lectures Obama on his failure to understand the need for a steady state economy) and concentrate on the other chapters. However for other readers, for whom the historical economic context might more interesting, I recommend reading the book straight through as written. Clearly Czech, his editors and publisher believe that the historical background is necessary for readers to understand Czech's argument, even prerequisite to that understanding.
Some observations and comments:
The main problem with neoclassical growth theory is that the ecosystem isn't included in their calculations. Neoclassical economists have somehow forgotten that all wealth ultimately comes from agriculture, i.e., the "trophic" basis of wealth. This has always been the case. Without surplus grain no civilization could have developed; no farmer could become an artist or a craftsman, and no financers or economists could even be imagined.
The reason that unlimited growth is impossible is that eventually all the land is taken up and there is no room to grow crops or raise livestock. Some economists then say that human ingenuity will find a way, but Czech points out (with devastating effect on their pipe dreams) that standing in their way are the first and second laws of thermodynamics. (See in particular Chapter 7.) Obviously the planet can carry only so many people. If you run out of nonrenewable resources you can't get something from nothing. Furthermore in any food chain there is a loss of energy as one goes up the chain. One thousand rabbits may feed 100 foxes (paraphrasing Czech) but 100 foxes will feed only 10 eagles. We can never get 100% efficiency from our food supply or use the sun and the green plants of the world with 100% efficiency.
But some economists might counter that oh well that's a long way off. The really terrible thing is that "the best available ecological foot printing research indicates that we use the equivalent of approximately 1.5 Earths to provide our resources and absorb our pollutants. In other words, it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year." (p. 186) That is not only not sustainable, at that rate the catastrophe will be upon us in as soon as a decade or two when the water and food riots begin and the US goes into a Fortress America mode with the suspension of civil rights under a totalitarian regime.
No, I am not joking and neither is Czech. The very idea of the unlimited, unsustainable economic growth that is ravaging this planet being some kind of standard economic wisdom makes us understand why economics is called the dismal science. But today's unlimited growth economists make me want to call economics not dismal but willfully myopic. Who do they think they are kidding besides themselves? And who has stacked the econ establishment deck at our universities with these clowns? And why?
Czech lets us know who historically. He recalls Henry George (1839-1893) who believed that the only fair and proper tax was a land tax. Oops. That kind of thing ran afoul of none other than John D. Rockefeller who used his money, power and influence to see that our universities were stocked with economists who believed otherwise. (See page 92.)
Today little has changed apparently. Czech quotes William
Nordhaus, Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University as saying, "Agriculture, the part of the economy that is sensitive to climate change, accounts for just 3% of national output. That means that there is no way to get a very large effect on the US economy." (p. 183)
This howler is nearly identical to something said by Thomas C. Schelling, a past professor of economics at Harvard, past president of the American Economic Association and 2005 Nobel laureate. (See page 183.)
How can these august economists be so clueless? Possibly because they have had little to no training in ecology or physics? If they had had some training they might realize that the human economy "is but one subsystem functioning within the ecosystem at large." (Quoting Herman E. Daly.) Or they might realize that the human economy is a subsection of the planet's economy. Czech adds, "We could even argue that it is the ecosystem from which the money flows (and we will, in the next chapter)." (p. 157)
Czech doesn't think the steady state economy should be something that divides liberals and conservatives. He makes the point that conservatives should be for conserving the environment and not be in favor of "a pro-growth, transform-the-world-into-plastic agenda." (p. 252)
Finally here's something I didn't know that is slightly beside the point but still worth noting: Millions of tons of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) "will not enter the stratosphere until the latter half of the 21st century, at which time some 7 to 13 percent of the ozone will be destroyed--`enough ozone depletion to seriously alter life on earth.'" Czech is quoting Sharon Roan from her book, "Ozone Crisis" (1989).
The real shock is how bad it already is and that virtually nobody in a position of power has a clue.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
on 15 February 2014
This is a must read to give the support for the renunciation of the outdated Economic Growth Mantra. In the transition towards a more sustainable society Czech makes powerful illustrations of the need for reform. Good coverage of the traditional dirge of orthodox economic theory from Mill, Malthus, Adam Smith, Marx, Marshall, Keynes, Solow etc, which is largely irrelevant but of some hjistorical note. It shows the dismal science for what it is.
More positively it makes reference to the Club of Romes Limits to Growth, Donella Meadows, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Herman Daly, H.T. Odum, Charles Hall in the formation of Ecological Economics, which s the emerging paradigm for society and economics.