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Why economics is not an ecological science?

from  Gregory A Daneke and WEA Commentaries

As an academic discipline economics has actually been organized to have little use for the concepts of ecology (especially: population biology, systemic science, ethology, natural history or biogeography). With the rise of Neoclassical economics, it was specifically designed to be a sterilized, frictionless, and hermitically sealed void in which to suspend economic activity. But of course, this a-societal, a-political, a-historical enterprise was an epistemological impossibility and actually constituted an ideological agenda. This agenda became more pronounced following WWII and the rise of Neoliberalism. The static methods of Neoclassicism were rejuvenated by its clarified and enhanced ideology. It was especially rearmed to ignore the evolution of humans and their institutions, as well as their interactions with natural environment. Beyond the diaspora of intuitionalists to the backwaters of academia, efforts at securing policy respectability for a tangent known as “Ecological Economics” have been more difficult than mixing oil and water (literally). I suspect that much of the antipathy for ecology (or any systems thinking for that matter) was about the fear of having their fatuous (if not fascist) core assumptions and other soiled ideological linen flying in the breeze. 

Strange as it may sound, economists tend to maintain that the ECONOMY IS NOT A LIVING SYSTEM, but rather a set of formalized and unchanging principles (expressed in equations pilfered from outmoded physics texts). This methodological retardation was fortified with the rise of Neoliberal ideology. By way of this alliance, economists discovered new ways to obscure their Neoclassical incongruities, as well as further conceal their own ideological proclivities. With the aid of wealthy patrons and well-paid politicians, not to mention loads self-promotional skullduggery (e.g., fake Nobel prizes, partisan institutes & think tanks, etc.), the current cult of economics passed itself off as the purest of social sciences. Inconvenient social and ecological reality could merely be swept aside by ceteris paribus (all things being equal) and/or made outside the scope of their analysis. Eventually, this façade of scientism, combined with their service to wealth and gained them a prized seat in the halls of power. At this point they could not admit to intellect reservations or make many alterations.

Ecological reasoning (especially dynamic cultural evolution), nonetheless, has become a mainstay in most the other social sciences. Studies of ancient artifacts provided clues to how modern societies evolve or devolve for some time. However, it was not until the 18th century that these notions solidified into an awareness of human and cultural evolution alongside Darwin’s insights into the natural selection. These observations and speculations, in turn, influenced the likes of Comte and Voltaire as well as Morgan, Hobhouse and Spencer. It was Herbert Spencer, a social theorist, who actually coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” in his misinterpretation of Darwin, and his popularized apology for the excesses of the Gilded Age.  It was a botanist and paleontologist, Lester Frank Ward, who became the “Father of American Sociology” by challenging “Social Darwinism” and forging many of our modern understandings of human ecosystems.

Economists were never so open to new ideas, they thought they already had all the understanding they needed. Just as Neoclassism (a term coined by Thorstein Veblen) was beginning take hold there was a less subdued dust up of sorts with ecological thinking, and it was effectively banished from the realm. Recall that Thorstein Veblen was not just asking his colleagues Why is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science? He not only challenged the mainstream’s misguided preoccupations with equilibria, he highlighted how deeply embedded cultural imperatives (like the predatory impulse) impact economic outcomes. His opus on the “leisure class” (a popular best seller at the time) was, loosely speaking, an ecology of the Gilded Age and his corpus of work also includes ingredients of environmental economics. Thus, despite being a defrocked economist, he set the stage for an authentic ecological approach, one which could meld classic institutionalism (“evolutionary economics”) with the new tools and concepts from complex adaptive systems.

read more: https://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/newsletterarticles/ecology-economics/

  1. Econoclast
    November 8, 2021 at 6:47 pm

    This is an excellent, informative essay with an appropriately taunting tone.

  2. Ken Zimmerman
    November 19, 2021 at 9:23 am

    Almost from its beginnings neoliberalism has been a form of Fascism. Consider the following.

    Absolute power of the State: The Fascist state is a glorious, living entity that is more important than any individual. All individuals are part of the State, but the State is greater than the sum of its parts. All individuals must set aside their own needs and supplicate themselves to the needs of the State. There is no law or other power that can limit the authority of the State.
    For the neoliberal ideology the market is the State. As the assumed ‘best’ way to reach liberty and prosperity, the power of the market must of course be absolute.

    Survival of the fittest: A Fascist state is only as glorious and powerful as its ability to wage wars and win them. Peace is viewed as weakness, aggression as strength. Strength is the ultimate good and ensures the survival of the State.
    Performance in the market is the only acceptable measurement standard.

    Strict social order: Social classes are strictly maintained in order to avoid “mob rule” or any hint of chaos. Chaos is a threat to the State. The State’s absolute power and greatness depends on the maintenance of a class system in which every individual has a specific place, and that place cannot be altered.
    Nothing destroys the discipline and order of the market more surely and quickly than the mob.

    Authoritarian leadership: To maintain the power and greatness of the State requires a single, charismatic leader with absolute authority. This all-powerful, heroic leader maintains the unity and unquestioning submission required by the Fascist state. The authoritarian leader is often viewed as a symbol of the State.
    For a neoliberal nation like the US this authoritarian symbol might be Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Buffet.

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