Social metabolism, environmental cost-shifting and valuation languages

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© Julien-François Gerber and Rolf Steppacher 2012. Linking Ecological Economics with Political Ecology, I discuss four main issues which one can learn from K.W. Kapp (1910-76) and other ecological economists. First, the economy is an open system which must be described physically (entry of energy and materials, exit of dissipated energy and material waste). This is why Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1966; 1971) analyzed the economy in terms of a ‘metabolic flow’. Second, externalities are preferably seen not as market failures but as cost-shifting to future generations, to the poor and to other species. For instance, the very real fact that in the United States power stations pay nothing for carbon dioxide production or that Spanish fishing companies pay nothing for overfishing the world’s oceans, indicates successful cost-shifting. A zero price for pollution or for resource extraction does not signal so much a market failure as a relation of power (Martínez- Alier and O’Connor, 1999; O’Connor and Spash, 1999). Third, not all values can be reduced to a single standard; there is incommensurability of values (a notion that K.W. Kapp adopted from Otto Neurath’s initial contribution to the Socialist Calculation Debate of the 1920s and 1930s). Fourth, and linked to the previous points, in order to understand complex realities we need to bring into play the different sciences, also following Otto Neurath’s idea of an ‘orchestration of the sciences’, attempting to explain history and also to construct scenarios of the future dialectically.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTowards an Integrated Paradigm in Heterodox Economics: Alternative Approaches to the Current Eco-Social Crises
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


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