The Wealth of Nature: How Mainstream Economics Has Failed the Environment [NOOK Book]

Overview


Virtually all large-scale damage to the global environment is caused by economic activities, and the vast majority of economic planners in both business and government coordinate these activities on the basis of guidelines and prescriptions from neoclassical economic theory. In this hard-hitting book, Robert Nadeau demonstrates that the claim that neoclassical economics is a science comparable to the physical sciences is totally bogus and that our failure to recognize and deal with this fact constitutes the ...
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The Wealth of Nature: How Mainstream Economics Has Failed the Environment

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Overview


Virtually all large-scale damage to the global environment is caused by economic activities, and the vast majority of economic planners in both business and government coordinate these activities on the basis of guidelines and prescriptions from neoclassical economic theory. In this hard-hitting book, Robert Nadeau demonstrates that the claim that neoclassical economics is a science comparable to the physical sciences is totally bogus and that our failure to recognize and deal with this fact constitutes the greatest single barrier to the timely resolution of the crisis in the global environment.

Neoclassical economic theory is premised on the belief that the "invisible hand"— Adam Smith’s metaphor for forces associated with the operation of the "natural laws of economics"—regulates the workings of market economies. Nadeau reveals that Smith’s understanding of these laws was predicated on assumptions from eighteenth-century metaphysics and that the creators of neoclassical economics incorporated this view of the "lawful" mechanisms of free-market systems into a mathematical formalism borrowed wholesale from mid-nineteenth-century physics. The strategy used by these economists, all of whom had been trained as engineers, was as simple as it was absurd—they substituted economic variables for the physical variables in the equations of this physics. Strangely enough, this claim was widely accepted and the fact that neoclassical economics originated in a bastardization of mid-nineteenth-century physics was soon forgotten.

Nadeau makes a convincing case that the myth that neoclassical economic theory is a science has blinded us to the fact that there is absolutely no basis in this theory for accounting for the environmental impacts of economic activities or for positing viable economic solutions to environmental problems. The unfortunate result is that the manner in which we are now coordinating global economic activities is a program for ecological disaster, and we may soon arrive at the point where massive changes in the global environment will threaten the lives of billions of people. To avoid this prospect, Nadeau argues that we must develop and implement an environmentally responsible economic theory and describes how this can be accomplished.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Although economics may still be described colloquially as the "dismal science," Nadeau (S/He Brain: Science, Sexual Politics, and the Myths of Feminism) argues that the propounders of classical and neoclassical economic theory, from Adam Smith in the 18th century to the present, have been mistaken in asserting that economics is a science. Through careful textual analysis, the author explains how economists, using outmoded metaphysical assumptions originally propounded by Smith in The Wealth of Nations, deceived themselves into believing that there are natural laws of economics. Furthermore, these misjudgments were compounded in the 19th century by the use of now discredited mathematical formulas, in which economic forces were perceived by economists in the same way physicists perceived principles of physics. The title of this book is an ironic play on the title of Smith's seminal explanation of capitalism. Unfortunately, the author contends, the continuing formalistic misapprehensions of economists spell possible global environmental catastrophes. These dislocations will result from outdated economic theories that do not take into account the physical realities of the world. The writer proposes a reordering of economic studies that will include an awareness of the vital interplay between ecology, natural resources, trade and population. This well-annotated, scholarly treatment of a dense subject is written in a lively style and will appeal largely to serious students of economics, history, ecology and philosophy. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
According to this new book, flaws in the fundamental principles of economics make it unable to assess environmental concerns properly. Nadeau, an interdisciplinary scholar at George Mason University, explains that neoclassical economists in the 19th century defined the fundamental principles of economics based upon the scientific knowledge of that time. He spends a chapter each on biology and physics to show how these sciences have evolved to understand the interconnectedness of the environment. In contrast, he argues, economics has merely layered new theory on top of its fundamental ideas of a closed-market system residing separate from the natural environment and thus cannot properly assess current resource usage and environmental degradation. Especially galling to Nadeau is the assumption of many economists that, left to itself, a free-market economy will inevitably work out suitable environmental solutions. In conclusion, Nadeau presents his ideas on how to begin formulating a new environmentally responsible theory of economics. While the book is free of mathematics and most jargon, its lengthy theoretical discussions recommend it to academic and larger public libraries with collections in economics and environmental studies.-Lawrence R. Maxted, Gannon Univ., Erie, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Booknews
Besides Updike, big names contributing include Norman Mailer, Cynthia Ozick, and Arthur Schlesinger. Their approach is not so much institutional history as a cascade of anecdotes illustrating how the US intelligentsia conduct themselves when they think the hoi poloi are not watching. Among the tales are a feud between brothers over which one was worthier, the struggle against modernism in the 1930s that resulted in F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.L. Mencken failing to be nominated, and Gore Vidal declining membership on the grounds that he already belonged to the Diners Club. Lists of past and present members are appended. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
Of inputs, outputs, and invisible hands: a prolegomenon to a future economics that takes environmental costs fully into account. A "green economics" is almost certainly impossible, writes Nadeau (Economics/George Mason Univ.), within the schema of existing neoclassical economic theory, whose assumptions derive from the union of classical economics with 19th-century physics. Those assumptions are metaphysical more than real, he continues; among them are the notions that "the market is a closed circular flow between production and consumption," that market systems operate without reference to the external environment, that the free market will sort out whatever problems are thrown at it, and, worst of all, that "the external resources of nature are inexhaustible, or replaceable by other resources or by technologies that minimize the use of these resources or rely on other resources." Strolling leisurely through the thickets of economic thought planted by the likes of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and other thinkers, Nadeau points to a host of contradictions and thorny problems, such as the essential unreality of the invisible hand (which "exists only in the minds of those who believe in its existence"), before setting about the harder work of concocting an economic theory that accounts fully for external inputs such as raw timber and hydroelectric power, all produced at fearful cost to the nonhuman environment. The details of this program will sometimes seem a little murky to the reader not well steeped in economic theory, and to those of a free-market bent, Nadeau's proposals will smack of one-worldism: the absolute value, he argues, is a sustainable global environment, while oneof his desiderata is the establishment of an international agency "that has the power and authority to ensure that . . . price mechanisms are universally applied in a fair and consistent manner throughout the global economic system." In short: Get thee behind us, Milton Friedman-there's a new accountant in town, and he's counting megawatts and felled forests.
Quarterly Review of Biology - Christopher P. Dunn

This author is to be applauded for...initiating what should be a new conciliatory dialogue on economics and the environment

International Journal of Sustainable Development - J. N. R. Jeffers

The Wealth of Nature makes a convincing case that there is no logic in assuming that neoclassical economics can account for the environmental impacts of economic activities or indeed find economic solutions to environmental problems... The book has already been acclaimed as 'an important book on a critical issue' that will help readers to understand the weakness of much of the argument that surrounds conventional economic thinking.

Quarterly Review of Biology
This author is to be applauded for...initiating what should be a new conciliatory dialogue on economics and the environment

— Christopher P. Dunn

International Journal of Sustainable Development - J.N.R. Jeffers
The Wealth of Nature makes a convincing case that there is no logic in assuming that neoclassical economics can account for the environmental impacts of economic activities or indeed find economic solutions to environmental problems... The book has already been acclaimed as 'an important book on a critical issue' that will help readers to understand the weakness of much of the argument that surrounds conventional economic thinking.
Science Books & Films - Dale Toweill

A valuable and very timely book, one that should be read by anyone interested in economics and ecology in our rapidly changing global economy.

Times Literary Supplement (Economics) - Zoe Young

...effective introductions to vitally important topics notoriously difficult to do justice to...

Ecology - Todd Wellnitz

The connections he makes between economies and the natural sciences are as fascintating as they are inspired. His ideas are unique, packed with substance, and bundled together with persuasive arguments.

International Journal of Sustainable Development
The Wealth of Nature makes a convincing case that there is no logic in assuming that neoclassical economics can account for the environmental impacts of economic activities or indeed find economic solutions to environmental problems... The book has already been acclaimed as 'an important book on a critical issue' that will help readers to understand the weakness of much of the argument that surrounds conventional economic thinking.

— J. N. R. Jeffers

Science Books & Films
A valuable and very timely book, one that should be read by anyone interested in economics and ecology in our rapidly changing global economy.

— Dale Toweill

Times Literary Supplement (Economics)
...effective introductions to vitally important topics notoriously difficult to do justice to...

— Zoe Young

Ecology
The connections he makes between economies and the natural sciences are as fascintating as they are inspired. His ideas are unique, packed with substance, and bundled together with persuasive arguments.

— Todd Wellnitz

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231507769
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 9/5/2003
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • File size: 949 KB

Meet the Author

Robert Nadeau is an interdisciplinary scholar and an historian of science and is currently a professor at George Mason University. His books include The Non-Local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind; The Conscious Universe: Parts and Wholes in Physical Reality; and S/He Brain: Science, Sexual Politics, and the Myths of Feminism. He lives in Fairfax, VA.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Ch. 1 Spaceship Earth: Homo economicus and the Environmental Crisis 1
Ch. 2 The Not So Worldly Philosophers: Metaphysics, Newtonian Physics, and Classical Economics 19
Ch. 3 The Emperor Has No Clothes: The Neoclassical Economists and Mid-Nineteenth Century Physics 37
Ch. 4 No Free Lunch: Mainstream Economics and Globalization 77
Ch. 5 A Green Thumb on the Invisible Hand: Environmental Economics 113
Ch. 6 Schisms, Heresies, and Keeping the Faith: Ecological Economics 133
Ch. 7 The Real Economy in Biology: Emergence and a New View of Order 149
Ch. 8 The Real Economy in Physics: Cosmic Connections 163
Ch. 9 Toward a New Theory of Economics: The Costs of Doing Business in the Global Environment 185
Ch. 10 The Ceremony of Innocence: Science, Ethics, and the Environmental Crisis 207
Notes 225
Index 241
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