Economics vs. the Economy

By William Rees, Great Transition Initiative, June 2015

Economic theories, though social constructions, can reflect reality to varying degrees. In the face of dire environmental challenges, adopting a realistic theory is key to the survival of global civilization. The neoliberal emphasis on limitless growth and monetary flows, a relic of nineteenth century thinking, abstracts away from biological conditions. By contrast, ecological economics—as distinct from environmental economics, which remains wedded to the neoliberal growth paradigm—understands the economy as a subsystem of the ecosphere and envisions a steady-state economy embedded within natural constraints. Achieving this equitably will require significant redistribution of wealth and income, reduction of material throughput, and a transition away from fossil fuels. Although the neoliberal paradigm remains dominant, its lack of fitness to current realities gives hope that an ecological alternative could ascend.

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