October 23, 2017

Greening economics

Foreword to Green Economics: beyond supply and demand to meeting people’s needs by Molly Scott Cato and Miriam Kennett. Green Audit, Aberystwyth 1999.

For more information on the book, see here. Miriam Kennet is a co-founder and director of the Green Economics Institute.

Conventional economics just isn’t working. At least, it is not accurately or helpfully describing the world and the forces that control economic activity. Nor is it helpfully building systems of exchange in a way that is good for either the planet or its inhabitants. The dissonance between the encouraging messages of growth described by the mathematical models of present day economic theory and the increasing reports of catastrophes – in health, in poverty, in species loss, climate change, in a whole range of measurable quantities that relate to life on earth in the last year of the 20th century – is now acutely embarrassing even to economists.

Although economists like to think of their discipline as a science, it is not value-free. What comes out of the models is not just the result of the data that goes in but also relates to the direction the economist expects or builds into the model. For this reason, if the economist can influence policy, the model will define a direction for society. Such a direction may be reinforced by the spurious scientific authenticity that economics has warded itself, and since its arcane world is hidden from the ordinary citizen, there is no democratic control over its processes.

It is now clear that the models have not led to improvements in the world or the quality of life of its citizens. And although the overall trend may look good when plotted as Gross National Product or some equally misleading economic concept, everyone can remember better times, and everyone looks forward anxiously to the future – a future with more work, more stress, more cancer and more risk in almost every area – with dread.

It is time that everyone made it their own business to think about economis to try and understand what is going on. Stripped of the mathematics and jargon it is, or should be, about the equitable distribution of resources and the use of those available resources to improve the condition of humanity and the integrity of the societies into which it is organised.

Green Economics has begun this process, that of reinventing the discipline in such a way that it describes the whole picture and benefits all. This book is an invitation to everyone who has been frustrated by the subject and by its genius for missing the point to get involved, to ask questions and to start to rewrite the rules.

Edward Goldsmith

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