Ecological reasoning demands perspectives that mainstream economics is designed to obliterate
“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 and Morgan, 2001). Such processes, in turn, have become increasingly illuminated through the burgeoning science of complex adaptive systems (for example 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 strangle -hold that mainstream economists have over specific institutions and the culture at large is for the most part 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 pretty much a static system virtually out of touch with the dynamics of “living systems” (as 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 environ-
“Given their appeal to pecuniary interests and proclaiming their status as the supreme social science, economists sought to sufficiently disguise their ideological predilections and 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 and government), not to mention their outsized personal remuneration and their blatant conflicts of interest (recall the prizewinning documentary Inside Job.
“Worse yet, by pretending to be apolitical, ahistorical, and value free, they have clandestinely expanded the vast set of cultural entanglements associated with a retrograde political economy and with its associated ecological destruction. Maintenance of the mythology requires increasingly intense societal dementia. The rapacious systems, that 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 the 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.”
Readers are encouraged to read the original paper (Ref 2) from which the comments appearing in RWER Blogs (Ref 1) were extracted, and which contains details of all the references mentioned.
Gregory A. Daneke is Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University, USA