Blogs >> Time for a more ecological approach to economics says Jonathan Dawson

Time for a more ecological approach to economics says Jonathan Dawson

We are into the final stage of this year’s Economics for Transition learning journey – an exploration into what may lie beyond the current dysfunctional venture that is popularly called ‘development’. 

What is immediately striking to me as we enter this enquiry is at the level of aesthetics - in short, the brutality and ugliness of the large-scale industrial systems that dominate the globalised economy. 

Place side by side in the mind’s eye the rainforest and the monocultural palm oil plantation; the family farm and the feedlot; the box store and the community shop.

Such concerns are, of course, of no account to the economist whose sole focus is on raw economic efficiency.  Seen through his prism, the world is reduced to a single arrow of progress spanning from underdevelopment to consumerist maturity, with each nation’s progress on the arrow measured by GDP.  The effect of this economistic device has been devastating to how we see ourselves as a global community.

In the words of Wolfgang Sachs, ‘’Once the scale of incomes had been established, such different worlds as those of the Zapotec people of Mexico, the Tuareg of North Africa, and the Rajasthani of India could be classed together; a comparison to the ‘rich’ nations demanded relegating them to a position of almost immeasurable inferiority.”

The fields of anthropology and ecology offer a quite different prism through which to view the world.  Both reveal a mosaic of diverse, elegant and creative adaptations to the specificity of place; a global heterodoxy of beautiful solutions to the challenge of living well on a diverse and finite planet. They offer a celebration of, in the words of the Zapatista insurrectionists in Mexico, ‘A world in which many worlds can fit’.

The concepts that lie at the heart of these disciplines - resilience, adaptability, symbiosis, the power of networks and so on - open up whole new ways of understanding and generating reciprocal wealth and wellbeing within the biophysical boundaries of the planet.

What we need is an ecologically-informed economics that draws heavily on design principles and metaphors drawn from natural system design and that dares to insist that a more sustainable world must truly be a more beautiful one.