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[edit] Eco-nomics and Ecological Economics

Ecological economics vs. Conventional economics

Ecological economics is a growing transdisciplinary field that aims to improve and expand economic theory to integrate the earth’s natural systems, human values and human health and well-being. In conventional economics, the primary goal is to increase goods and services produced by human industries (built capital), and the gross domestic product (GDP) is a national measure of the total value of goods and services produced annually. Conventional economics assumes that ever-increasing GDP is desirable, possible, and that everyone benefits.

Ecological economics takes a broader perspective and recognizes that there are more things that contribute to human well-being than just the amount of stuff, such as health and education (human capital), friends and family (social capital) and the contribution of the earth and its biological and physical systems (natural capital). Its goal is to develop a deeper scientific understanding of the complex linkages between human and natural systems, and to use that understanding to develop effective policies that will lead to a world which is ecologically sustainable, has a fair distribution of resources (both between groups and generations of humans and between humans and other species), and efficiently allocates scarce resources including “natural” and “social” capital. Four main types of capital are considered in ecological economics:

Built capital is the type of capital we are used to thinking about in conventional economics. It refers to goods and services created by human industry – buildings, cars, appliances, roads, toys, etc.

Natural capital is a concept that recognizes the importance and value of the goods and services provided by nature. It goes beyond the traditional consideration of natural products as raw materials for conversion into goods (trees into houses or paper) to consider functions that are provided by planetary systems (breathable air, a stable climate) or local ecosystems (flood protection by coastal wetlands, and drinking water purification by forests). Sometimes the monetary value of these ecosystem services can be calculated, such as the cost to replace them with built capital (coastal wetlands with levees). However, some natural services are priceless. They are essential for life, and irreplaceable (breathable air).

Social capital refers to the positive benefits gained through our interactions with others (friends, family, social groups) and the common structures of our society (languages, institutions, educational system, laws). It makes a major contribution to our collective well-being, but is hard to quantify in monetary terms.

Human capital refers to the sum of our own health, personal experiences, education, talents, skills and interests. Collective human capital (and social capital) cannot be maximized unless there is social justice, equivalent access to the opportunities that our society provides.

What is sustainability and how does it relate to Ecological Economics?

Ecological economics reminds us that "sustainability" is a multi-faceted goal by focusing on the complex interrelationship between different elements of sustainability: ecological sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability. It reminds us of the complexity of the many interacting systems that make up the biosphere and the uncertainty that is a fundamental characteristic of all complex systems. Ecological economics is concerned with the problem of assuring sustainability in the face of uncertainty, and aims to maintain the resilience of ecological and socioeconomic systems by conserving and investing in natural, social and human assets.

Ecological economics also seeks true economic efficiency.

Economic efficiency and good economic decision making are not possible if all of the costs and benefits are not considered or included in prices. Often current market prices do not capture the full costs of an economic activity that depletes resources or damages natural systems (natural capital); or inflicts costs to human health and well-being (social and human capitals) caused by pollution or other side effects of the activity. These excluded costs are called "externalities", defined as costs that are not included in the price of the product but are shouldered by a third party, outside the producer/seller and buyer/consumer. Capture of these costs in the market would provide a powerful incentive to move towards sustainability.



Economics/Eco-nomics: Real World Challenges & Opportunities

Environmentalism – Multidisciplinary Ecological Economics

Environmental economics, the economics of natural resources, sustainable development, green economics, sustainability science, bioeconomics, ecodevelopment: the disciplines and concepts situated at the crossroads of environmentalism and economics are many. This article examines “ecological economics,” a field that has achieved academic recognition and launched numerous debates...

A Field in Constant Upheaval

Environmental economics, the economics of natural resources, sustainable development, green economics, sustainability science, bioeconomics, ecodevelopment, etc.: there are so many different perspectives from which economics considers the environment that one can soon feel lost, especially since so many terms have been concocted to designate a kind of “dream economics” — bioeconomics, ecodevelopment, sustainable development, green economics, and so on.

Though it first appeared and received institutional recognition in the late 1980s by reviving an array of ideas from the more or less distant past (from classical economists like John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx to contemporaries such as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Kenneth Boulding), EE has now emerged out of obscurity. With a number of regional associations, regular scholarly conferences, and thousands of researchers across the globe, it is fully integrated into the academy. The founding of the ISEE (International Society for Ecological Economics) in 1988 and of the journal Ecological Economics in 1989 have given the field stature. At present, there are numerous research centers and publications, as well as several key works and textbooks, that adhere to its approach.

EE initially established itself as a research program lying at the intersection of the social and life sciences. It brought together people dissatisfied with these disciplines who agreed on several common goals: to take the problematic relationship between economic and natural systems seriously and to determine the conditions under which these systems could be “sustainable.” For the economists, the key intuition was the inadequacy of the neoclassical definition of sustainability as a “utility that does not decrease over time.” Consequently, EE is often seen as the “heterodox” cousin of environmental and natural resource economics. While this opinion is partially justified, it is worth recalling that EE’s founders conceived it as a unifying project that would, in an open and pluralistic framework, welcome the neoclassical approach as one of any number of valid scholarly perspectives.

In practice, this 'syncretism' has often proved awkward. The question of EE’s relationship with neoclassical environmental economics is the subject of never-ending debate and controversy. Even so, the distinction between weak and strong sustainability, which is often seen as the dividing line between environmental economics and EE, remains a useful reference point. No economist who adheres to EE accepts the hypothesis that natural capital can be substituted ad infinitum or that “backstop technologies” can solve the problem of scarcity.

Beyond this trademark position, EE is perhaps best characterized by its avowed methodological plurality. It borrows from “standard” economics, institutional economics, post-Keynesian economics, scientific ecology, environmental ethics, and environmental history. For EE, the common denominator between these approaches is an effort to understand the relationship between economic systems and ecosystems. According to Malte Faber, one of the movement’s pioneers, EE’s essential traits are an interest in nature, justice, and time, all of which are overlooked by standard economics. A more common definition in the field, which specifically refers to the concept of sustainable development, is that it seeks to analyze simultaneously the triptych of sustainable levels, equitable distribution, and efficient allocation.

An examination of programmatic articles and studies by scholars who adhere to EE reveals some of this field’s distinctive traits: methodological pluralism; the claim that the relationship between human beings and their milieu is characterized by value incommensurability; the centrality of uncertainty; an emphasis on such phenomena as path dependency and irreversibility; an ethical commitment to consider the interests of future generations; a belief in the (very) limited substitutability of natural capital by other forms of capital; and a systemic approach (championed in France by René Passet, one of EE’s inspirers). These ethical and methodological commitments form a set of core beliefs that give some coherence to a field that, because of its diversity, remains particularly fragile.

Perhaps even more than other disciplines aspiring to be sciences, environmental ecologists have developed normative frameworks at the same time as they have constructed analytical tools. The field is constantly developing and interrogating concepts with a normative tenor, such as “sustainability,” “resilience,” and “environmental assessment.” At the same time, it strives to fine-tune the tools needed to study these concepts empirically. While this approach undoubtedly contributes to EE’s vitality, the flip side is that its concepts and methods lack the tested and stable foundations that one finds, for instance, in neoclassical economics.

Regional varieties of EE have begun to emerge: the European association (ESEE) is resolutely heterodox and emphasizes political ecology, while in the United States EE is closer to environmental economics. For example, Robert Costanza’s “realist” environmental economics, which has no qualms about practicing monetary assessment on a mass scale, stands opposed to the European project (championed notably by Clive Spash) of a “social ecological economics.”


Ecological economics/eco-economics refers to both a transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary field of academic research that aims to address the interdependence and coevolution of human economies and natural ecosystems over time and space. It is distinguished from environmental economics, which is the mainstream economic analysis of the environment, by its treatment of the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem and its emphasis upon preserving natural capital. One survey of German economists found that ecological and environmental economics are different schools of economic thought, with ecological economists emphasizing strong sustainability and rejecting the proposition that natural capital can be substituted by human-made capital.

Ecological economics was founded as a modern movement in the works of and interactions between various European and American academics (see the section on history and development below). The related field of green economics is, in general, a more politically applied form of the subject.

According to ecological economist Malte Faber, ecological economics is defined by its focus on nature, justice, and time. Issues of intergenerational equity, irreversibility of environmental change, uncertainty of long-term outcomes, and sustainable development guide ecological economic analysis and valuation. Ecological economists have questioned fundamental mainstream economic approaches such as cost-benefit analysis, and the separability of economic values from scientific research, contending that economics is unavoidably normative rather than positive (i.e. descriptive). Positional analysis, which attempts to incorporate time and justice issues, is proposed as an alternative. Ecological economics shares many of its perspectives with feminist economics, including the focus on sustainability, nature, justice and care values.

Some key concepts of what is now ecological economics are evident in the writings of E.F. Schumacher, whose book Small Is Beautiful – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered (1973) was published just a few years before the first edition of Herman Daly's comprehensive and persuasive Steady-State Economics (1977). Other figures include ecologists C.S. Holling, H.T. Odum and Robert Costanza, biologist Gretchen Daily and physicist Robert Ayres. CUNY geography professor David Harvey explicitly added ecological concerns to political economic literature. This parallel development in political economy has been continued by analysts such as sociologist John Bellamy Foster.

See: Eco-nomics /

Anthropocene /
Environmental full-cost accounting /
New Economy Movement /
Living wage, living income /,_Living_income


Anthropocene bks016.png

The Birth of the Anthropocene by Jeremy Davies

Anthropocene or Capitalocene?: Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism by Elmar Altvater, Eileen C. Crist, Donna J. Haraway, Daniel Hartley, Christian Parenti, and Justin McBrien -- Jason W. Moore (Editor)

Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System by Ian Angus

After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene by Jedediah Purdy

The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us by Christophe Bonneuil & Jean-Baptiste Fressoz


SJS / Siterunner: Within the United States, a nascent debate is underway, looking at the existing political economy, macro/micro-economics and alternative approaches and methods to improve 'economics as eco-nomics'. The Green party is one of the many groups who are exploring the contradictions and costs of economic failures -- from the financial services industry and 'too big to fail' subsidization to 'money in politics' and its impact on foreign and domestic policy, war spending and national debt, falling income and collapsing infrastructure. At the business org level, new ideas are being interjected into day-to-day planning and operations, ideas as in 'sustainability', 'energy efficiency', 'direct participation of shareholders/stakeholders' and a diverse set of green eco-solutions with both short- and long-term vision.

One of the leading Green economic thinkers is Richard Wolff, who was a founding member of the Green Party of New Haven, Connecticut, and its mayoral candidate in 1985.

Here he speaks of the study of economic systems from a classic point of view and the New School of Social Research (where your GreenPolicy siterunner studied graduate economics.)

Richard D Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus -- University of Massachusetts-Amherst / Graduate Faculty, New School, New York

In a 2013 interview with Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now", Wolff explains how his European background influenced his world view:

"[E]verything you expect about how the world works probably will be changed in your life, that unexpected things happen, often tragic things happen, and being flexible, being aware of a whole range of different things that happen in the world, is not just a good idea as a thinking person, but it’s crucial to your survival. So, for me, I grew up convinced that understanding the political and economic environment I lived in was an urgent matter that had to be done, and made me a little different from many of my fellow kids in school who didn’t have that sense of the urgency of understanding how the world worked to be able to navigate an unstable and often dangerous world. That was a very important lesson for me."
AMY GOODMAN: And your father’s influences in school back in Europe?
RICHARD WOLFF: He was a product of Europe’s education. So, for example, when I was young, he was scandalized that the New Rochelle high school, where I went to school, a public school, didn’t offer Greek as a language, because in his idea you can’t be an educated person unless you read Greek and Latin, because so many of the great founding works of Western civilization are in those languages. So I was always made aware of the shortcomings of my education. And indeed, my father, even as a kid, had me reading Plato and Aristotle, in English, by then, in order to be a broadly educated, philosophically grounded young person. So, I got a pretty intense tutorial alongside of my schooling.
AMY GOODMAN: Where did the Frankfurt School come into this? And what is that?
RICHARD WOLFF: My father, as a young man, befriended a fellow named Max Horkheimer, a very famous German thinker. In the Germany of the 1920s, if you were left of center, there was no place for you in the German universities. It’s a little bit like that in Germany for the last few years again. But in the 1920s, it meant that if you were a critical thinker, if you were critical about capitalism, if you were critical about modern culture, you either had to forgo an academic life or career, or you had to find one of a handful of little institutions that existed next door to a university but not really part of it.
The most famous of these in the city—the German city of Frankfurt was associated with the University of Frankfurt but not part of the university. So it got the name the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. And that’s where intellectuals, including people like Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, people who have since become quite famous even in the United States among intellectual circles, they all were professors there or researchers there, because they couldn’t get a university job.
And my father was part of that for a few years before Hitler’s arrival, who disbanded all of that and made most of them come to the United States, where indeed one of the things they did when they came to New York was start a new university called the New School...
AMY GOODMAN: For Social Research.
RICHARD WOLFF: My father taught at the New School. I teach at the New School. And my son Max, who I think you know, also teaches at the New School...
For the—for 40 years, up until around 2010, the media dealt with me as if I were a strange, odd, marginal character. I would be invited to interviews, and the host or hostess would say, "Today we have one of those," with big eyes. And the next thing would be: "Aren’t I a wonderfully liberal, open-minded host or hostess to have one of those on my program." By that time, the audience had effectively been inoculated against whatever I would say.
All of that changed in the last two years. Suddenly, I am on the radio, on television. My work gets published left and right. My story hasn’t changed that much, but the audience, the American people, have changed. And whatever people say and think about the tea party and all that that represents on the right-wing end of the spectrum, I can tell you from my personal life that the openness, the interest, the sympathy for what I have to say—not always agreement with me, by all means—but the openness is extraordinary and bespeaks big changes happening below the radar in the consciousness of the American people and gives me lots of hope and lots of optimism about what’s possible here.

Read More: (2012) (2012) (2012 - with Stephen Resnick) (2013) (2016)



'Ecological Economics': An emerging paradigm

Sustainable economies, a new interdisciplinary framework that embraces the linkages among economic growth, environmental degradation, and social inequity.


'Eco-nomics': A New Green Political Economy


Further Reading

Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington DC

Center for Popular Economics, Amherst, MA

Dollars & Sense, Somerville, MA

Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University

Political Economy Research Institute, UMass, Amherst

Progressive Economics Think Tanks

SJS / Siterunner: Again, looking back to the Graduate Faculty of the New School in New York, to David M Gordon, who passed away at a young age in 1996. David spoke of long-term economics and coined the phrase “social structure of accumulation” (SSA) that speaks of the need to consider multi-generation impacts of economic activity. Let's look back -- and forward -- at a number of these ideas with Thomas Weisskopf who contributes in 2014 to the David Gordon Memorial Lecture --- Reflections on 50 Years of Radical Political Economy. The concept of 'radical' speaks of alternatives to neoclassic/neoliberal economics as new threads emerge responding to economic and environmental challenges.

More from the New School for Social Research / Political Economy-Liberal Studies-History of Ideas (1970-2000)
Gordon, David M. with Bowles, Samuel, "Beyond the Waste Land: A Democratic Alternative to Economic Decline" (1983) -
Gordon, David M. with Bowles, Samuel; Weisskopf, Thomas E. "After the Waste Land: Democratic Economics for the Year 2000 (1990) -

Publications of David Gordon Memorial Lecture Series -

Center for American Progress

Economic Policy Institute

Institute for New Economic Thinking

Institute for Policy Studies

New America Foundation


The second generation of ecological economics: How far has the apple fallen from the tree?

Ecological economics was first created as a forum providing space for criticizing 'normal science, i.e. science based on an oversimplification of complex issues and aiming at predictions.

The paper analyzes 6237 abstracts of articles published in four journals since 1989.
Scientific discourse produced in ecological economics has evolved.
Ecological economics discourse is converging toward environmental economics.
The valuation of ecosystem services discourse has become central in ecological economics.
The prevalence of pragmatism in the field and in the editorial boards exlains this trend.

More on EE

Arrow, J. K., (1951), Social Choice and Individual Values, Yale University Press.
Baumgärtner, S., Quaas, M., (2010), “Sustainability Economics: General versus Specific, and Conceptual versus Practical,” Ecological Economics, 69, pp. 2056-2059.
Bromley, D. W., (1990), “The Ideology of Efficiency: Searching for a Theory of Policy Analysis,” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 19, pp. 86-107.
Costanza, R., (1989), “What is Ecological Economics?”, Ecological Economics, 1, pp. 1-7.
Hodgson, G. M., (2010), “Darwinian Coevolution of Organizations and the Environment,” Ecological Economics, 69, pp. 700-706.
Martínez-Alier, J., Munda, G., O’Neill, J., (1998), “Weak Comparability of Values as a Foundation for Ecological Economics,” Ecological Economics, 26(3), pp. 277-286. - _blank
Norgaard, R., (2010), “Ecosystem Services: From Eye-opening Metaphor to Complexity Blinder,” Ecological Economics, 69, pp. 1219-1227.
Spash, C., (2009), “Social Ecological Economics,” CSIRO Working Paper Series 2009-08, June 2009.
Tacconi, L., (2012), “Redefining Payments for Environmental Services,” Ecological Economics, 73, pp. 29-36.

Common, M., S. Stagl, (2005), Ecological Economics: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, 592 p.
Costanza, R. (ed.), (1991), Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability, Columbia University Press, New York.
Costanza, R., et John Cumberland, Herman Daly, Robert Goodland, Richard Norgaard, “An Introduction to Ecological Economics (e-book)”, in Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland, Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [2007]
Daly, H., J. Farley, (2010), Ecological Economics, second edition: Principles and Applications, Island Press, 488 p.
Luzadis, V. A., Castello, L., Choi, J., Greenfield, E., Kim, S., Munsell, J., Nordman, E., Franco, C., and Olowabi, F., (2010), “The science of Ecological :Economics. A content analysis of Ecological Economics, 1989-2004”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1185, p. 1-10.
Martínez-Alier, J., Jusmet, J.R., (2001), Economía Ecológica y Política Ambiental. México (D.F.): Fondo de Cultura Económica, 499 p.
Martínez-Alier, J., I. Ropke (ed.), (2008), Recent Developments in Ecological Economics, Edward Elgar Publishing, 1352 p.
Norgaard, R.B., (1994), Development Betrayed: The End of Progress and a Coevolutionary Revisioning of the Future, Routledge.
O’Connor, M., Spash, C., (ed.), (1999), Valuation and the Environment. Theory, Method and Practice, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.
Passet, R., (1996), L’économique et le vivant, second edition, Economica.
Røpke, I., (2004), “The Early History of Modern Ecological Economics”, Ecological Economics, 50, pp. 293-314.
Røpke, I., (2005), “Trends in the Development of Ecological Economics from the Late 1980s to the Early 2000s”, Ecological Economics, 55, pp. 262-290.
Söderbaum, P., (2000), Ecological Economics. A Political Economics Approach to Environment and Development. Earthscan, London.
Vatn, A., (2005), Institutions and the Environment, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.



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