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Joan Martinez Alier: economy, ecology and politics.

The Catalan economist Joan Martinez Alier has written extensively on ecological economics, especially its past and its present situation. The excerpt's conclusions reject all forms of technocracy, whether economic or ecological, in making decisions on the social use of resources, environmental policies, and the alternative purposes for which these resources should be employed. He points out that decision-making belongs to the field of politics and explicitly states that, in the present, not only are future generations excluded but so are most of contemporary humanity, the dispossessed.

'Externalities' is a word which describes the shifting of uncertain social costs, or possibly benefits, to other social groups, whether 'foreigners' or not, or to future generations. The conclusion has been reached that because of big, diachronic, imponderable externalities, economic commensurability does not exist separately from a society's moral evaluation of the rights of other social groups. These groups include future generations, so that views, whether pessimistic or optimistic, regarding future technical changes enter the equation.


An economic rationale, based either on the market or on central planning and which takes into account ecological side effects and uncertainties, is impossible. It is equally impossible to decide human affairs purely according to ecological planning. This leads to favoring the politicization of the economy. In other words, I conclude that the economy and ecology of humans are embedded in politics. This in turn raises the question: what are the territorial units and the procedures for decision-making? Many conferences have tried recently to define environmental agendas, which would be the pre-requisite for environmental decision-making. Such conferences have unequal representation. They certainly lack representation from future generations. Most probably they also fail to reflect the interests of the three or four billion poorest members.

Ecological Economics, by Joan Martinez Alier. Blackwell, London & Cambridge, Mass. (1990)

Reproduced with permission of Blackwell Publishers

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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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