The Big Ideas of 2009

Adbusters' Person of the Year

Herman Daly's ideas might help us claw our way out of the economic and environmental mess we're in.
Adbusters' Person of the Year

feature article
Big Idea: A Steady-State Economy
by Herman Daly.


Herman Daly isn't your average neoclassical economist, though he may well have been were it not for certain key events in his life. Like most graduate students of economics, Daly once believed that growth was the key to solving humanity's problems. But while earning his doctoral degree under one of the most respected economists of the day, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Daly's confidence in growth was shaken.

Despite having made significant contributions in the field of neoclassical economics, Georgescu-Roegen, at the time of becoming Daly's mentor, had started to uncover a critical flaw in neoclassical theory: it failed to take into account how economic processes consume resources and generate wastes. Further growth meant a quicker rate of resource extraction and ever more waste. That seed of doubt that Geoegrescu-Roegen managed to plant in Daly's young mind began to grow when Daly read Silent Spring, a groundbreaking book that warned of the dangers of industrial chemicals in the food chain. After accepting a teaching position in Brazil in 1968, Daly observed firsthand how population growth was negatively impacting the local environment. His faith in growth had eroded. In its place sprung a grave concern over the apparent indifference his fellow economists displayed to the relationship between the economy and the environment.

In the 1960s and 70s, it was practically unfathomable that an economist would question the growth model. Yet once Daly realized that the economy is a growing subset of a non-growing planet, he had no choice but to sound the alarm. Humanity, he argued, had to shift to a steady-state economy, one in which demands placed on the ecosystem would remain safely in bounds. This would imply shifting economic policy from a focus on stoking growth, where the scale of physical demands on ecosystems perpetually increased, to a focus on development, meaning humanity would have to learn to make wiser use of a modest and more stable level of materials taken from the environment. Daly was able to make little headway among fellow economists, but his views were recognized as key insights by natural scientists and the emerging environmental movement.

For four decades, Daly has worked tirelessly to challenge the growth dogma that modern society has so enthusiastically imbibed. Publishing several books and more than 100 articles, Daly has even tried to effect change from within, spending six frustrating years at the World Bank, where he observed how misguided policies emerged from "an unrealistic vision of development as the generalization of Northern over-consumption." In 1994, Daly left the World Bank for the University of Maryland. To date, he has received the Right Livelihood Award as well as the Heineken Prize for Environmental Science awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Thanks to the overwhelming evidence natural scientists have amassed demonstrating that if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, humanity must stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, mainstream economists are grudgingly coming to accept the fact that there are ecological limits to our growth after all. While the majority have yet to admit that growth is a false idol, once one limit is accepted, the likelihood that there are others quickly follows. Once these limits are accepted, the whole plausibility of continued growth crumbles. Herman Daly has long been working to move the goalposts, and his brilliant economic insights are changing how the game is played. He has shown ways to tame the global economy's insane appetite for resources. In a world where we must make more modest demands on nature, he has focused on ensuring that we use those limited resources to produce real wealth that addresses real human needs. Herman Daly is a game changer and a paradigm shifter. He is illuminating the path that will lead us away from ecological and economic crises. Thus, at this critical juncture in our history, Adbusters has chosen him as Person of the Year.

Continue to read
Big Idea: A Steady-State Economy
by Herman Daly.

32 comments on the article “Adbusters' Person of the Year”

Displaying 11 - 20 of 32

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Anonymous

Click on BIG IDEA: A STEADY STATE ECONOMY at the end of the posting for an in depth article about Herman Daly's ideas.

Anonymous

Click on BIG IDEA: A STEADY STATE ECONOMY at the end of the posting for an in depth article about Herman Daly's ideas.

Anonymous

Read the book "Cradle to Cradle" By William McDonough & Michael Braungart. It describes essentially the same thing. But the authors do not decry growth; instead they advocate a revolution in design and infrastructure that would enhance growth by imitating the natural systems around us. The book itself was produced in such a manner that it can be re-used (with different content) after its natural life has ended. The following is from http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm "In addition to describing the hopeful, nature-inspired design principles that are making industry both prosperous and sustainable, the book itself is a physical symbol of the changes to come. It is printed on a synthetic 'paper,' made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, designed to look and feel like top quality paper while also being waterproof and rugged. And the book can be easily recycled in localities with systems to collect polypropylene, like that in yogurt containers. This 'treeless' book points the way toward the day when synthetic books, like many other products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle to cradle cycles." Do yourself a favor: google "cradle to cradle"

Anonymous

Read the book "Cradle to Cradle" By William McDonough & Michael Braungart. It describes essentially the same thing. But the authors do not decry growth; instead they advocate a revolution in design and infrastructure that would enhance growth by imitating the natural systems around us. The book itself was produced in such a manner that it can be re-used (with different content) after its natural life has ended. The following is from http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm "In addition to describing the hopeful, nature-inspired design principles that are making industry both prosperous and sustainable, the book itself is a physical symbol of the changes to come. It is printed on a synthetic 'paper,' made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, designed to look and feel like top quality paper while also being waterproof and rugged. And the book can be easily recycled in localities with systems to collect polypropylene, like that in yogurt containers. This 'treeless' book points the way toward the day when synthetic books, like many other products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle to cradle cycles." Do yourself a favor: google "cradle to cradle"

Anonymous 2

It is nice to believe in a solution to the words problems of consumption, and I am sure that eventualy there may be a radical change in the way we think as a concerned colective, I just do not see the people of power and means jumping on this wagon and with out the money and resorces it will be hard to stop the downward spiral of this country never mind the world. fourty years ago when I lived in southern Calif. it was foretold of the empending downfall of the words enviromental eco system the L.A. basins smog was proof, and today you still cant see the san bernidino mountains from 5 miles away. so what generation are we talking? mabey my great grandchilderns if we havent blown ourselves up by then! 82,000 people is not a large base, how many of them have this money and power to make these changes? Oh I for got the other concern 40 years ago was over population of the world. how are we doing with that and the thousands that die each day from lack of food and clean water? should their need be ignored for the sake of our greed, I guess so because it certenly hasn't changed it. enviroment or survival today which do you think people will choose? good luck

Anonymous 2

It is nice to believe in a solution to the words problems of consumption, and I am sure that eventualy there may be a radical change in the way we think as a concerned colective, I just do not see the people of power and means jumping on this wagon and with out the money and resorces it will be hard to stop the downward spiral of this country never mind the world. fourty years ago when I lived in southern Calif. it was foretold of the empending downfall of the words enviromental eco system the L.A. basins smog was proof, and today you still cant see the san bernidino mountains from 5 miles away. so what generation are we talking? mabey my great grandchilderns if we havent blown ourselves up by then! 82,000 people is not a large base, how many of them have this money and power to make these changes? Oh I for got the other concern 40 years ago was over population of the world. how are we doing with that and the thousands that die each day from lack of food and clean water? should their need be ignored for the sake of our greed, I guess so because it certenly hasn't changed it. enviroment or survival today which do you think people will choose? good luck

Geoff (NZ)

When we look into the economy, all we see is complexity. The only information we can source appears dense and complex. For someone like me who understood very little of the academic and economic world Its really difficult to understand what is going on. This induces a fear, for we fear what we do not understand. Im starting to wonder if this is the point? For deception and corruption can 'only' hide in shadows cast by this complexity. If this information where made simple and transparent, as it truly is...fear subsides to motivation. Motivated people are bad for business. There is a lot more to the economy than the misguided law of growth. Like money.. The federal bank is an institution, run by a handful of men. It is the source of 'money' for the government. The government knocks on it doors and says, " hey we want $10 million bucks from the Fed, So the Government gives the Fedral bank 10 million bucks worth of IOU's called bonds. The Fedral Bank prints for the Government 10 big ones in currency... that comes... 'OUT OF THIN AIR' since the gold standard was abolished (value of note backed by an proportion of 'gold' owned by the country) and replaced with 'Legal Tender' (value achieved by decreasing value of current dollar) or (Inflation) The crazy thing is...The Federal Bank CHARGES INTEREST!!! So If all america's money comes from the Federal bank at interest (10%) How does one pay the Federal bank back..........."Thats the point" Truth is... If all the debt in the world was payed back, there would not be a cent in left in circulation. Are these people that stupid, or are they that smart? (Reference Zietguiest), Free to watch http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/ You might even learn that there is NO law demanding that its people file a Tax Return in America.. Because it is 'unconstitutional'. People only do it because they think they have too. Bring me the economist of the layman's. all we need is the knowledge. nothing more.

Geoff (NZ)

When we look into the economy, all we see is complexity. The only information we can source appears dense and complex. For someone like me who understood very little of the academic and economic world Its really difficult to understand what is going on. This induces a fear, for we fear what we do not understand. Im starting to wonder if this is the point? For deception and corruption can 'only' hide in shadows cast by this complexity. If this information where made simple and transparent, as it truly is...fear subsides to motivation. Motivated people are bad for business. There is a lot more to the economy than the misguided law of growth. Like money.. The federal bank is an institution, run by a handful of men. It is the source of 'money' for the government. The government knocks on it doors and says, " hey we want $10 million bucks from the Fed, So the Government gives the Fedral bank 10 million bucks worth of IOU's called bonds. The Fedral Bank prints for the Government 10 big ones in currency... that comes... 'OUT OF THIN AIR' since the gold standard was abolished (value of note backed by an proportion of 'gold' owned by the country) and replaced with 'Legal Tender' (value achieved by decreasing value of current dollar) or (Inflation) The crazy thing is...The Federal Bank CHARGES INTEREST!!! So If all america's money comes from the Federal bank at interest (10%) How does one pay the Federal bank back..........."Thats the point" Truth is... If all the debt in the world was payed back, there would not be a cent in left in circulation. Are these people that stupid, or are they that smart? (Reference Zietguiest), Free to watch http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/ You might even learn that there is NO law demanding that its people file a Tax Return in America.. Because it is 'unconstitutional'. People only do it because they think they have too. Bring me the economist of the layman's. all we need is the knowledge. nothing more.

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