Home > Uncategorized > Ecological reasoning demands perspectives that economics is designed to obliterate

Ecological reasoning demands perspectives that economics is designed to obliterate

from Gregory A. Daneke 

Given the numerous disasters exhibited of late involving Mainstream Economics, various heterodox economists have called for much greater consideration of ecological processes (both natural and social, see Fullbrook & Morgan, 2001).  Such processes, in turn, have become increasingly illuminated through the burgeoning science of complex adaptive systems (e.g., Preiser, et al, 2018). What some of these earnest observers fail to fully appreciate, however, is that ecological reasoning demands perspectives that economics as a policy enterprise is specifically designed to obliterate.  Merely invoking alternative perspectives without first exploring the stranglehold that mainstream economists have over specific institutions and the culture at large is mostly a fool’s errand. Economics and ecology stem from the same Greek root “oikos” or eco (meaning home) and referring to the art of life.  Yet, they have become like the twins in the swashbuckling tale by Dumas, The Man in the Iron Mask (with one the vile usurper the other the innocent prisoner). Fairly early on economics abandoned concern for widespread human welfare and focused on what the Greeks called “chrematistics” (or “the art of acquisition”, see Stahel, 2021).

During the middle of the 20th century, Mainstream Economics became less of a science and more like a primitive cult (for a bit comic relief see Leijonhufvud, 1973). It is now primarily practiced to conceal the contradictions and extoll the virtues of yet another predatory epoch (much like the Guided Age, see Veblen 1899). Mainstream Economics is a pretty much a static system virtually out of touch with the dynamics of “living systems” (popularized by Capra, 1996). It is particularly hostile to anything systemic and symbiotic, especially those theories and methods associated with sustainable socioecological systems. Over the last few decades, the mainstream has morphed to ignore mounting incongruities, moving from Neoclassical to Neoliberal and now Neofeudal representations, further enshrining  inequality and environmental devastation.

Given their appeal to pecuniary interests and proclaiming their status as the supreme social science, economists sought to sufficiently disguise their ideological predilections and their overwhelming allegiance to their generous plutocratic patrons. In the process, mainstream economists became increasing recalcitrant in defense or their fraudulent prestige (e.g., fake Nobel Prizes) and inordinate power (in business & government), not to mention their outsized personal remuneration and blatant conflicts of interest (recall the award-winning documentary, Inside Job).

Worse yet, by pretending to be apolitical, ahistorical, and value free, they have clandestinely expanded the vast set of cultural entanglements with a retrograde political economy and associated ecological destruction. Maintenance of their mythology requires increasingly intense societal dementia. The rapacious systems, they so vigorously defend, exacerbate inherent financial instability (see, Minsky, 1980) and accelerate upward redistribution, as well as ignoring the rapidly converging ecological catastrophe (i.e., global climatic chaos). Even under optimistic scenarios these processes will bring with them levels of political oppression and societal immiseration not seen since the Dark Ages.

All the while, the remediative observations of ecologists remain tangential, at best, to serious policy discussions. Catch phrases and sound bites have entered the lexicon, but mostly as “green washing” for corporate and governmental tokenism, and more recently to stimulate popular support for various neofeudal schemes such as the so-called “Great Reset” (see Roth, 2021). Things are indeed dire, but hopefully not so dire, that the public should trust the “Davos Men” (who created these crises) to completely privatize planet and rent it back to them in a less environmentally disruptive fashion. Before these schemes gain more momentum a new breed of scholars should seriously strive to identify and excise the anti-ecological as well as anti-democratic institutions hard-wired into the existing political economy.   read full paper here

  1. Ikonoclast
    February 5, 2023 at 8:59 pm

    This is a brilliant paper. I fully endorse it as a science-literate layperson and autodidact philosopher of the interactions of real systems and formal systems in a monist, relational, complex systems framing. That’s just to indicate where I am coming from.

    The collapse many scientists have predicted has arrived. It is happening now. No-one should be in any doubt that this is the collapse. Even some of the objective conventional economists admit it, openly using terms like “mitigated disaster”. They admit the disaster is upon us and the best we can do is mitigate now and hopefully avoid absolute and complete disaster at some future time.

    The problems with conventional economics run very deep. Extant capitalism is failing the bulk of the people of the world completely and utterly and is destroying the world as a livable place for humans and most other meso and macro species. Witness the sixth mass extinction.

    Conventional economics is a failed research program. It needs a renovation or “instauration” as profound as Bacon’s “Great Instauration and Novum Organum” against the scholastic syllogism and for the empirical investigation. Bacon’s cry for the great instauration must now be applied to conventional economics, a still alchemical as well as a chrematistic discipline.

    “xii – The logic now in use serves to fix and give stability to the errors which have their foundations in commonly received notions, than to help the search after truth. So it does more harm than good.

    xiii – The syllogism is not applied to the first principles of the sciences, and is applied in vain to intermediate axioms; being no match for the subtlety of nature. It commands assent to the proposition but does not take hold of the thing (the natural phenomenon).

    xiv – The syllogism consists of propositions, propositions consist of words, words are symbols of notions. Therefore if the notions themselves (the root of the matter) are confused and over hastily abstracted from the facts, there can be no firmness in the superstructure. Our only hope therefore lies in a true induction.” – Bacon, Aphorisms.

    Bacon then goes on to mention “experiment”.

  2. Gerald Holtham
    February 6, 2023 at 6:20 am

    My father, who was a Brit who served in WW2, said the French had a saying (I’m not sure that was true): when the British bomb, the Boche duck. When the Americans bomb, everybody ducks. I am reminded of this no-doubt apocryphal story when reading pieces like this. Guilty people or specific pieces of work are never identified. Instead there is a wild condemnation of the whole field of economics which is accorded fantastic influence and is therefore responsible for all the world’s ills.
    Gets you nowhere. Please select your targets better. Some of my best friends are economists, most are left-leaning, one or two are socialists. Better to build coalitions than bomb everybody.

  3. Ikonoclast
    February 8, 2023 at 11:53 pm

    Conventional economics is carpet-bombing the entire natural world. This is the material point. The current capitalist production system is unleashing climate change, sea level rise, increases in intensity of weather events, rises in ocean temperature, rises in ocean acidity, changes in air and ocean currents, impending ocean death and plastics and chemical pollution on a global scale, just to name some of the major problems. The proof that this is of epoch-ending magnitude runs from the general data leading to the declaration of the anthropocene including to the specific data about the sixth and fastest mass extinction in the history of earth’s biosphere. Human inequality and vulnerability are now also rising extremely rapidly.

    These features illustrate the completely destructive and maladaptive nature of the late stage capitalist production system. The system is a dead-end, leading with a high degree of certainty, now likely 99%, to a series of unmitigated disasters for humanity and all macro and meso sized life on earth. In the face of that, more special pleading to give capitalism or orthodox economics more chances is absurd. It is a system literally programmed, albeit unintentionally, by its internal axioms and theorem outcomes, to destroy the world. The empirical evidence IS that is destroying the world right now (as a livable environment for humans and macro/meso sized life).

    Marxism also fails the real system test. All classical economics (Orthodox Marxism, unless extensively revised, is tendentiously classical too) and neoclassical economics is based on management of the world by aggregating and valuing disparate items of utility and dis-utility (excluding a plethora of negative externalities in any case) in the fictitious unit of the numeraire. This method of capitalization and valuing disconnects our economic system from the proper scientific evaluation of real possible outcomes. The chrematistic goal of acquiring new wealth is at odds with developing a sustainable, renewable economy which relies on keeping essential natural systems intact and functioning.

    Many people are stuck with a lifetime of emotional, intellectual and career investment in the degenerate research program of unscientific orthodox or classical economics which is destroying the world. These people cannot change, imagine or envision the necessarily radical new ways we must run our societies. Progress will occur tens of thousands of funerals at a time, in this orthodoxy set, from natural and peaceful deaths I hope, although this outcome actually becomes less likely the longer we persist on the wrong path.

    Only a new generation which can perceive the real dangers and is not stuck in old ideology or sclerotic, careeist friend and colleague groups will be able to imagine and develop new paths. But our current system has opposed adaptive change for so long, we are now in serious existential danger. It will be touch and go.

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