On Herman Daly’s Economics for a Full World: Biosocial context and future prospects

Prof Herman Daly is one of the founding fathers of the emerging discipline of ‘ecological economics’. He has long argued that to achieve genuine sustainability, the global community should be transitioning to a ‘steady-state’ economy based on ecological principles derived from biophysical reality.

In 2014 Daly added a prestigious Blue Planet Prize to his list of international accolades. His Blue Planet acceptance speech, Economics for a Full World,1 contains a fine summary of Daly’s award-winning economic philosophy. The essay below is a response to that speech in which I compare Prof Daly’s steady-state ecological economics to the growth-oriented neoliberal economics that currently dominates mainstream thinking – of possible interest to anyone curious about the contemporary roots of humanity’s self-destructive development trajectory.

What the scientist’s and the lunatic’s theories have in common is that both belong to conjectural knowledge. But some conjectures are much better than others…” (Karl Popper, The Problem of Induction)

Is there anything we can say about economics that takes us beyond pure ‘conjecture’? How can we tell whether one theorist’s interpretation of the economic process is any ‘better’ than another’s?

These questions are not as simple as they seem. Of the many unique qualities that set H. sapiens apart from other sentient beings, one of the most important is that we humans tend to create our own ‘realities’. To be more precise, we make up stories about almost everything, give these stories legs through social discourse and repetition, and then ‘act out’ of the stories as if they were reality. Tribal myths, religious doctrines, political ideologies, academic paradigms, and grand cultural narratives are just some of the fabrications that can make or ruin individual lives and set the course for whole societies. Sociologists call the general phenomenon the ‘social construction of reality’ (though it would be more accurate to refer to the social construction of shared perceptions). The fact of ‘social construction’ provides a useful frame through which to assess the relative merits of neoliberal growth economics vs. Herman Daly’s steady-state economics for a full world.

First, however, it is important to distinguish between ‘the economy’ and ‘economics’. Both are made-up concepts, but with a significant difference. We define the economy as that set of activities by which human agents identify, develop/exploit, process and trade in scarce resources. It generally encompasses everything associated with the production, allocation, exchange and consumption of valuable goods and services, including the behavior of various agents engaged in economic activity. Different economies vary considerably in sophistication and organizational structure. However all economies are real phenomena; people in every human society from primitive tribes through modern nation-states engage in economic activities as defined.

‘Economics’, by contrast, is pure abstraction. It is that academic discipline dedicated to dissecting, analyzing, modeling and otherwise describing the economy in simplified terms. Academic economists engage in the social construction of formalized models – verbal and arithmetic ‘paradigms’ – about how the real economy works.

In fact, economists have advanced various competing economic paradigms to describe our modern, techno-industrial, mainly capitalist national and global economies. These differ substantially in terms of foundational principles, analytic tools, systemic scope, conclusions and policy implications, particularly where the biophysical ‘environment’ is concerned. This should be no surprise – whatever their seeming conceptual elegance and analytic rigor, every economic paradigm is, at bottom, a socially-constructed figment of the human imagination, one that necessarily reflects the starting beliefs, values and assumptions of its authors.

This should give us pause. Despite demonstrably sketchy origins, paradigms of all kinds assert enormous power over expressed human behavior. Indeed, it is truly remarkable that individuals and whole societies live in the real biophysical world guided by the parameters of various myths, paradigms, social norms and cultural narratives that may have only a tenuous grip on that same reality.

Which brings us back to wondering how reasonable people might choose between neoliberal growth economics and Dalyesque steady-state economics, particularly in a time of ecological turmoil. Post-modernists of the extreme relativist persuasion might argue that, since all knowledge is socially constructed, there is no objective reality. Competing paradigms are therefore equally valid (as in “my vision of the economy is as good as yours!”). This is dangerously wrong-headed – humans construct only their beliefs, not reality. Relativistic equivalence is itself a constructed fiction. As culture critic Neil Postman observed, “You may say, if you wish, that all reality [i.e., perception] is social construction, but you cannot deny that some constructions are ‘truer’ than others. They are not ‘truer’ because they are privileged, they are privileged because they are ‘truer’”2 (echoes of Popper).

To be clear, we should acknowledge that many social constructs are pure illusion with no counterpart in nature (e.g., the tooth-fairy or the notion of a fiery hell); others specify entities that actually exist in total indifference to how people conceive of them (e.g., the law of gravity or the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients). Postman is referring to constructs in the latter category – all social constructions of real phenomena are conceptual models, but a ‘truer’ model will be based on tangible evidence, not opinion or wishful thinking. ‘Truer’ constructions are better maps that more faithfully represent the real-world landscapes they purport to represent.

It is also important to recognize that while belief in some illusory constructs (e.g., ‘the sun rises in the East’) is inconsequential, allegiance to others can determine the fates of nations. How a society conceives of its economy, for example, really matters – arguably, operating from a realistic economic paradigm may even be a key to the survival of global civilization.

Neoliberal mechanics or eco-thermodynamics: Which is the truer platform?

So, what do we know about real-world economic activities that might guide the construction of a ‘true’ economic paradigm? ‘True’ in this context means that it must adequately reflect the energy/material flows and biophysical processes basic to all living things, including human beings. After all, the human system functions like a multi-cellular organism except that, in addition to our bio-metabolic demands, we also have to account for humanity’s unique industrial metabolism. Six factual descriptors seem particularly relevant:

1. All human economies are confined to planet Earth – i.e., they function within the ecosphere.

2. The entire human enterprise – our physical bodies, our toys and furniture, and the infrastructure needed to maintain the functional integrity of the whole – are made from energy and materials that we extract from ecosystems and inanimate nature (i.e., from self-producing and non-renewable forms of so-called ‘natural capital’).

3. All energy and material flows/processes associated with economic activity are governed by well-known laws of physics and chemistry.

4. Real economies, societies and ecosystems are complex systems characterized by lags, threshold and other forms of non-linear behavior (complex systems dynamics) that makes their trajectories under stress inherently difficult to predict.

5. The energy and material pathways associated with the acquisition of resources and the disposal of wastes are the material vectors by which people interact with both other species (ecosystems) and inanimate nature. In fact, a qualitative and quantitative record of these flows would describe humanity’s material ecological niche; the goods economy roughly maps the human ecosystem.

6. The ecosphere is a finite entity with variable, but ultimately limited, regenerative and waste assimilation capacities.

The next question is, how well do mainstream neoliberal economics and Daly’s ecological economics respectively incorporate these framing constraints? The short answer for the neoliberal paradigm is, ‘virtually not at all’. The dominant economics in this 21st Century of increasing ecological turmoil is a relic of 19th century thinking. Its intellectual founders, motivated by the remarkable success of Newtonian physics, set out explicitly to model economics as the ‘mechanics of utility and self-interest’. The discipline consequently lost sight of the social context and purpose of economies and became abstracted from biological reality. Practitioners increasingly based their models on mechanical cause-effect logic and other simplistic assumptions in the service of analytic tractability, all expressed in linear mathematics. Growth through efficiency gradually became its raision d’être.

Analytic mechanics may have been a suitable platform for the design of early automobile engines, but was grossly inadequate to reflect the lags, tipping-points, multiple equilibria, irreversible transformations, and other complex dynamics of industrial economies or of the social and ecological systems within which they are embedded. Nevertheless, since the scale of human activity relative to ‘the environment’ was initially negligible, neoclassical economists were able to ignore biophysical context with impunity until the 1960s (In Daly’s terms, they had been inhabiting an ‘empty’ world).

When pollution and general eco-dysfunction finally became embarrassingly visible in the 1960s, the mainstream response was ‘environmental economics’, essentially an extension of the neo-classical growth-based paradigm. If environmental assets were being degraded, the solution was to monetize nature and let free markets do their magic. Put a price on pollution (i.e., ‘internalize the externalities’) and depend on market and technological efficiency gains to ease resource scarcity. Where that fails, human ingenuity, stimulated by rising prices, will find substitutes for any failing good or service provided by nature. As Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow famously wrote, “The world can, in effect, get along without natural resources”. No perceived need to question the structural premises of the neoliberal model or its primary goal of growth through efficiency and technological progress. (Indeed, there are arguably no constraints on human ingenuity).

The fact that mainstream analysis focuses on money flows increases the gulf between conventional economics and the material world. (Money is itself an abstraction with or no physical dimensions or theoretical limit.) The starting point for conventional analysis in every standard text is the seemingly self-generating (and ever expanding) circular flow of exchange value between firms and households and back again. This model ignores the unidirectional, irreversible energy and material counter-flow that feeds the money circle. As Daly has argued, the circular flow represents the economy as “…an isolated, self-renewing system with no inlets or outlets, no possible point of contact with anything outside itself”3. Describing the economic process as a magical money flow with no reference to material throughput is akin to describing animal physiology in terms of the circulatory system with no reference to the digestive track. One might as well ask engineering students to fathom how “a car can run on its own exhaust” or biology students to accept that “an organism can metabolize its own excreta”4.

It gets worse. The financialization of the economy in recent years – the spectacular growth in both the absolute scale and proportion of money-wealth generated through otherwise unproductive paper trading – reinforces the illusion that wealth-creation is divorced from the material world while (ironically) giving the benefactors ever greater access to real material goods.5

We can thus summarize the neoliberal version of the economy as a kind of self-producing perpetual motion machine. In effect, expansionists see the economy as an independent, self-generating, ever-growing system that lacks any important connectedness to anything else. Thus conveniently suspended in conceptual space, the economy’s expansion is unfettered by physical laws and its ultimate scale unbound by Earthly limitations. A fatal flaw in this ‘construct’ is that it violates a central theorem of complex systems control, Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety: the internal ‘variety’ (diversity, complexity ) of a management system must correspond to the variety of the system being managed if the manager is to maintain control. Cyberneticist Stafford Beer explained the rationale this way: “we cannot regulate our interaction with any aspect of reality that our model of reality does not include… because we cannot, by definition, be conscious of it.”6 It seems that running the ecosphere with neoliberal economics as a guide is akin to trying to fly the starship Enterprise using a VW Beetle driver’s manual.

Ecological economics avoids most of this conundrum. Daly explicitly describes the economy as an open, wholly dependent sub-system of the larger ecosphere which is itself “finite, non-growing, and materially closed, although open to a continual, constant throughput of solar energy”. (The solar flux drives the regenerative/assimilative life-support processes of the ecosphere, mainly the hydrological cycle and photosynthesis.) Ecological economics also explicitly acknowledges that: a) the human sub-system can grow and maintain itself only by extracting resources from, and injecting its wastes back into, its host system and; b) the relevant material transformations are subject to natural law. The law of mass conservation and the first law of thermodynamics, for example, require that 100% of the energy and material resources extracted from the rest of the ecosphere to fuel the human economy quickly returns to the ecosphere as useless waste; the second law of thermodynamics dictates that to grow and maintain a unit of ‘human enterprise’ we must consume and dissipate a much larger quantity of ‘available’ energy/matter sourced from the rest of the ecosphere.7 (As Daly observes, all our bodies and machines are ‘dissipative structures’ whose maintenance alone requires continuous metabolic throughput.) This implies that economic ‘production’ is, in fact, mostly consumption and that increasing the scale and organizational complexity (negentropy) of the human enterprise is achieved only the expense of a much greater increase in randomness (entropy) elsewhere in the ecosphere. (Think soil erosion, accumulating atmospheric greenhouse gases, ocean acidification and all other classes of pollution, biodiversity loss and other resource depletion.)

It follows directly that when economic demand exceeds nature’s supply (the regenerative and assimilative capacity of ecosystems), the economy becomes potentially self-destructive. The human enterprise transitions from living on sustainable ‘natural income’ to parasitizing the ecosphere – i.e., further growth of the system is achieved by depleting the very income-producing natural capital which is prerequisite to the economy’s existence and by and filling waste sinks to over-flowing. 8 It is in this bio-thermodynamic sense that Daly can legitimately assert that humanity now lives in an ecologically (over-)full world. (Eco-footprint analysts refer to this now chronic situation as ‘overshoot’. )

Daly’s vision also implicitly recognizes an increasingly tragic corollary of continuous economic growth, a particularly stark example of the ecological concept of ‘competitive exclusion’. H. sapiens competes with thousands of other species for the ecosphere’s limited bio-capacity, particularly the downstream products of photosynthesis. Every increase in the human population with its attendant expansion of cultural artifacts requires the appropriation of other species’ habitats, more intensive agriculture, and increased non-renewable resource exploitation with its attendant ecosystem pollution (which further reduces bio-capacity). On this finite Earth, the unconstrained growth of any one sub-system necessarily means the contraction, even extinction of competing sub-systems (those of other species) and the simplification of ecosystems. In Daly’s words, “more human economy means less natural ecosystem”. Competitive-exclusion-run-amok is a sufficient explanation for the accelerating loss of biodiversity that accompanies human population and economic growth.9

Finally, ecological economics underscores a starkly ironic clash between the results of mainstream monetary analysis and biophysical analysis. Neoliberal economists point to the modestly declining ratio of resource consumption per unit GDP evidence that, through enhanced efficiency, the economy is ‘dematerializing’. This is analytic artifact. Material flows studies comparing H. sapiens’ exploitation of ecosystems with that of dozens of ecologically similar species show that human demands already exceed those of other organisms by orders of magnitude; materials-based analysis of the human ‘ecological footprint’ (the proportion of Earth’s biocapacity dedicated to supporting H. sapiens) reveals that the latter is still steadily increasing. In short, with the application of increasingly aggressive exploitation technologies humanity’s ecological niche continuously expands with the economy. H. sapiens has become, directly and indirectly, the single most significant consumer organism (both herbivore and carnivore) in all the major ecosystems on Earth and the single greatest geological force modifying the face of the planet. These realities are hardly consistent with the (delusional) notion that the economy is ‘decoupling’ from nature.

Contrary evidence notwithstanding, technology- and growth-favoring ‘eco-modernists’ would still solve our ecological predicament through accelerated economic growth and renewed faith in technology (e.g., nuclear energy, geo-engineering, etc.), particularly technologies that might facilitate the [non-existent] “decoupling [of] human development from environmental impacts”10. This is advocacy for divine intervention. Our current state of overshoot results mainly from meeting the material demands of just the wealthiest fifth of the human population who consume 70% of the world’s economic output (the poorest 20 per cent survive on only 2 per cent). With billions in poverty and billions more to come, is there any Earthly development path that would meet the unsatisfied material needs, let alone wants, of the entire human family while reducing ecological impacts?

And the winner is…

It should by now be clear that ecological economics embodies a much ‘better’ or ‘truer’ representation of the relationship between the human enterprise and the rest of the ecosphere than does the neoliberal paradigm. Moreover, Prof Daly’s advocacy of a “transition toward a steady-state economy focused on qualitative development, as opposed to quantitative growth” speaks to a logically consistent next step. (An economic steady state implies a more or less constant rate of energy and material throughput, compatible with the regenerative and assimilative capacities of the ecosphere.) 11

But how might a rational society determine the appropriate level of resource exploitation and throughput? Again, Daly articulates clearly that the theoretical ‘optimal scale’ of economic activity is marked by that point at which the declining marginal benefits of further economic growth (wealth) are just equaled by the rising ecological and related marginal costs (‘illth’), and he gives us the marvelously evocative term ‘uneconomic growth’ to describe what lies beyond and. However, while Prof Daly acknowledges that “the desired level of steady-state economy is crucial” he stops short of speculating just how far the world has journeyed on its ‘limits to growth’ trajectory. He thus avoids discussing the probability that a sustainable steady-state economy is likely to be a materially much smaller economy than the present global enterprise.

This may be expedient – the idea of a steady-state is challenging enough for most people; to contemplate material contraction lies beyond (conventional) reason. However, let’s assume that the global goal should be to create a dynamic, more equit­able steady-state that satisfies the basic needs of the entire human family within the means of nature. Our best environmental science tells us that world is already beyond ‘full’; we are starting from a state of overshoot. Thus, for the human enterprise to operate compatibly “within the means of nature” merely curtailing growth is not sufficient; the data suggest that the global community needs to reduce fossil energy use, associated material consumption and pollution by 50 per cent or more by mid-century. Moreover, to address egregious inequality, wealthy countries would have to reduce their energy/ material throughput by 80 per cent by 2050 and abandon fossil fuels entirely shortly thereafter. The additional commitment by the rich is necessary to free up the ‘ecological space’ needed to improve material conditions in developing countries where increased consumption is both necessary and morally justified. Income/wealth redistribution is a necessary part of the steady-state sustainability package. Even J.S. Mill recognized as early 1848, that if growth ceases to be available as a poverty-reduction tool, “a better distribution” emerges as the only viable policy option.12

On human agency in the age of denial

If Daly’s economic logic is basically consistent with biophysical reality, his confidence in human agency arguably strays from evident human behavior, particularly group behavior. He begins his case for positive policy action, in part, by vigorously rejecting “ecological reductionism”. By this, Daly means the view that “human action is totally explainable by and reducible to the laws of nature” which, “taken to the extreme”, explains everything by materialist determinism leaving “no room for purpose or will” and therefore no room for “any economic thought aiming at policy.”

Fair enough, but then, why take eco-reductionism to the extreme? – surely there is room for middle ground. Humans are indeed capable of logical analysis and acting on the evidence, but there are many circumstances in which instinct, emotion and individual life experience trump reason; behavior may not be ‘determined’ by natural law but fundamentals of human nature certainly give it warp and twist.

This could be a long discussion but three examples should serve to make the point. First, there is no dispute that humans are myopic by nature. There are excellent evolutionary reasons why a preference for the familiar here-and-now conferred a selective advantage over opting for uncertain futures and distant elsewheres. (We’d rather enjoy our cars and ski-doos today than sacrifice them to avoid possible climate change that is likely to have a greater impact somewhere else.) Even mainstream economists see this as perfectly rational behavior, having formalized it as social (temporal and spatial) discounting.

Second, humans are, by nature, a hierarchical species (again, for good evolutionary reasons). Every significant human society self-organizes in a social pecking order; people compete for social status, political and economic power; our self-esteem frequently resides in our relative success in achieving these things. And, once they have claimed their stake in the status quo, most people are reluctant to give it up, particularly to avoid some ill-defined future threat of unknown probability. (What are the chances that the ‘One Percent’ will voluntarily relinquish their seeming entitlements to avoid climate change?)13 Keep in mind, too, that the competition is not necessarily fair. Many individuals cheat, lie, and even kill in their climb up the socio-political ladder; corruption is often rampant at the top. In short, the very nature of politics compromises the exercise of rational human agency in the public interest.

Third, people are creatures of habit. Cognitive science has revealed that frequent exposure to many social and sensory ‘inputs’ helps create synaptic circuits in the developing brain that serve as neural templates for those experiences. Political ideologies, academic paradigms and other social constructions can acquire a physical presence in our brains and, once entrenched, these structures alter our perception of subsequent sensory inputs. Most importantly, people tend to seek out experiences and select information that reinforce their preset neural circuitry. Conversely, “when faced with information that does not agree with their internal structures, they deny, discredit, reinterpret, or forget that information”.14

Such behaviors can alter the course of history. Indeed, irrational folly …plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions [e.g., ideology] while ignoring any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts”.15

Bottom line? Various factors from innate biological drives to acquired neural networks “can be pernicious to rational decision-making in certain circumstances by creating an overriding bias against objective facts”16. High intelligence and free will are handicapped. The effectiveness of human agency, including the ability to implement policy consistent with the logic of ecological economics and the appeal of a socially just ecologically secure economic steady-state, may well be blunted or misdirected by basic human nature.

Add to this the inordinately complex, inherently unpredictable behavior of the increasingly entangled econo-ecosphere; the socio-cultural noise generated by myriad competing religions, political ideologies, linguistic groups, and other species of inter-tribal rivalry; vigorous defense of the status quo by privileged elites (including the purposeful program to befuddle the public through science denial, a new ‘age of unreason’); and the sheer momentum of the existing growth-based technology-propelled global economic engine. Little wonder that some analysts believe it will take a catastrophe of unprecedented scale to make room for the effective exercise of any sensible strain “of economic thought [aimed] at policy”, particularly at the global scale.

Epilogue

Genes and gene complexes can be defined as units of biological information that help determine the ‘fitness’ of their possessors and can be passed on between generations. Similarly, we can think of technologies, paradigms and ideologies as ‘memes’ and ‘meme complexes’, units of cultural information that contribute to the fitness of society and can be transmitted between generations – except that memes hold an advantage over genes in that they can also be transmitted within generations. Cultural evolution can proceed more quickly than biological evolution. 17

This suggests an interesting corollary. Biological evolution proceeds by natural experiment through genetic mutation. Random mutations that significantly alter an organism’s ‘fitness’ (how well it is adapted to its biophysical environment) are subsequently put to the test by that environment. Variations that enhance fitness (the ability to acquire resources and reproduce) will be passed on with greater frequency and will therefore accumulate in subsequent generations. By contrast, mutations that decrease survival and reproduction constitute failed experiments and are ‘selected out’ by the environment. Evolution proceeds through trial and error.

Now, what if competing meme complexes – e.g., neoliberal and ecological economics – are also subject to natural selection? Certainly different economic paradigms can have differing effects on the seeming fitness of human societies. For example, the material growth and technological progress associated with the neoliberal paradigm have proved extraordinarily successful in increasing resource acquisition, reproductive success and the survival rates of people in industrial countries.

Too successful, actually. Industrial society now imposes such an enormous entropic burden on its host environment that the ecosphere itself is changing to the point of becoming hostile to the contemporary human enterprise. Ecologically naïve beliefs, values and assumptions that were tolerated when the world was relatively empty have become a threat to civilization now that the world is ecologically full. It is therefore not conceivable that growth-based neoliberal economics may soon be ‘selected out’ and, with it, the compound mythic construct of perpetual growth and continuous technological progress? With the onset of global climate chaos and ecological decay, we may be seeing industrial capitalism’s unprecedented (material) success morphing into ignominious failure. Perpetual growth economics is a dead-end experiment

Fortunately we do have a nascent alternative, a steady-state ecological economics whose conceptual framing is entirely compatible with the structure and function of the ecosphere. To the extent that this mutant meme might enhance humanity’s fitness, it holds promise that a flourishing steady-state civilization might yet emerge on Earth in this century. Aimless growth may yet give way to true social development, mere quantitative accretion to qualitative betterment.

What is the probability that some combination of good science, popular fear and civic unrest will finally make of ecological economics an idea whose time has come? And will the mutant strain have time to take hold before the world is engulfed by the climate change, environmental refugees, and resource wars promised by staying our present course? Daly provides basic policy goals for transitioning to the steady-state. But as he himself acknowledges, “it is something else entirely to say how we will secure the will, strength, and clarity of purpose to carry out these policies.”

The good news is that, if society does muster the political will in time, the great eco-economic leap forward in cultural evolution could be complete in as little as a generation.


1 A slightly revised version can be found at: http://www.pandopopulus.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Herman-Daly-ECONOMICS-FOR-A-FULL-WORLD.pdf

2 Postman, N. 2000. Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century. New York, Alfred Knopf (p. 6)

3 Daly, H.E. 1991a. Steady-State Economics (2nd ed). Washington, Island Press (p.196).

4 Daly, H.E., ibid., p.197.

5 Meanwhile, as the 1% ascends, ecosystems erode, the middle class languishes and labor and the chronically poor (both engaged mainly in the material economy) see their jobs disappear and real incomes decline.

6 Beer, S. 1981. I Said,you are Gods. Teilhard Review 15, Issue 3. Teilhard Centre for the Future of Man, pp 1-33.

7 The second law states that every energy/material transformation increases global net entropy (disorder, randomness) and that no such transformation is 100% efficient. Hence, to create sophisticated structure and order in the human enterprise necessarily produces much greater degradation (depletion and pollution) in the ecosphere).

8 A parasite is an organism that gains its vitality by sapping the vitality of its host.

9 We should note that with increasing resource scarcity, rising food costs, climate change, etc., the number of ecological refugees is on the rise. We are witnessing the beginnings of potentially massive ‘competitive exclusion’ of some human groups from their ‘habitats’ by other human groups, the displacement of the poor and weak by the rich and powerful. (Sea level rise is an obvious example, but consider also the increase in intentional international ‘land grabs’) Are we seeing the acceleration of global eco-apartheid?

10 (See the eco-modernist ‘manifesto’ at http://www.ecomodernism.org/ and a rebuttal here: http://www.resilience.org/articles/General/2015/05_May/A-Degrowth-Response-to-An-Ecomodernist-Manifesto.pdf

11 The steady state is not to be confused with a stagnant state. A steady-state economy can be dynamic, constantly changing with the rise of new and the decline of “sunset” industries. It is an economy dedicated to qualitative improvement in well-being, not merely quantitative growth. In J.S. Mill’s words, in a stationary state “there would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the Art of Living, and much more likelihood of its being improved, when minds [cease] to be engrossed by the art of getting on”  (Mill, J.S.1848. Principles of Political Economy, Book IV, chap. 6).

12 Ibid, note 8.

13 And it’s not just the ‘one percent’. Studies show that environmentally well-informed people enjoy the same consumer life-styles as their ecologically naïve compatriots in similar income brackets. Better environmental information does not automatically induce greater pro-environment behavior.

14 Wexler, B. 2006. Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology and Social Change. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

15 Tuchman, B.W.1984. The March of Folly, from Troy to Vietnam. New York, Alfred Knopf.

16 Damasio, A.1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. New York, Avon Books.

17 The concept of cultural memes is attributable to controversial geneticist, Richard Dawkins.