25 March 2016

E. O. Wilson's critique of mainstream economics

This, from E. O. Wilson's 1998 book Consilience, is probably one of the most devastating indictments of the whole intellectual underpinning of (most of) economics, and by extension, political economy and politics itself:
> "The single greatest intellectual obstacle to environmental realism, as opposed to its [merely] practical difficulty, is the myopia of most professional economists. [Earlier in the book] I described the insular nature of neoclassical economic theory. Its models, while elegant cabinet specimens of applied mathematics, largely ignore human behavior as understood by contemporary psychology and biology. Lacking such a foundation, the conclusions often describe abstract worlds that do not exist. The flaw is especially noticeable in microeconomics, which threats the patterns of choices made by individual consumers.
> "The weakness of economics is most worrisome, however, in its general failure to incorporate the environment. After the [1992] Earth Summit, and after veritable encyclopedias of data compiled by scientists and resource experts have shown clearly the dangerous trends of populations size and planetary health, the most influential economists still make recommendations as though there is no environment. Their assessments read like the annual reports of successful brokerage firms. ..."

He makes a convincing case that thinking in terms of conventional economic theory will lead us right of the cliff in this century, when the kinds of trends that in the past have caused empires to fall and whole civilizations to collapse are in play: exceeding the carrying capacity of an environment to the point where the kind of well being bloated populations have become accustomed to can... rather suddenly... become no longer sustainable. Except this time, we're talking about, if you'll pardon the French, THE WHOLE FUCKING PLANET.


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