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Herman Daly Festschrift: May There Be Dalyists: Politics for a Steady State Economy

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Herman Daly: Career Transformer

Herman Daly is more than a giant in the economics of sustainability; he is a gentle giant, in and out of economics.  The fact that he is widely recognized as a good fellow in addition to a scholar should not be lost in a festschrift.  Of course, the mere existence of a festschrift indicates that the scholar, and not just the scholar’s work, is held in high regard.  Yet the fact that Daly is a good fellow, with accolades such as the Right Livelihood Award, bears revisiting in a chapter on politics.  After all, assessments of “good” and “bad” rule the political hearts and minds of many citizens.

For those who haven’t met Daly in person, a measure of the man may be ascertained from For the Common Good, where Daly’s ethical and theological concern for human wellbeing shines as brightly as his steely logic for a steady state economy.  Daly doesn’t settle for some supposed “rising tide” to lift all boats out of poverty.  For one thing, he recognizes that the tide may rise only so far, leaving some boats stranded in the mud.  Yet Daly wouldn’t settle for the rising tide plan even if the tide were unlimited.  He believes justice can and should be encouraged in economics curricula and pursued with public policies, not left to the tides.

But Daly isn’t interested exclusively in justice.  He is also concerned with truth.  This will help to explain how a wildlife biologist in mid-career (like myself in the 1990’s) becomes an ecological economics instructor, establishes an organization to advance the steady state economy, and authors a chapter in a Daly festschrift, especially this particular chapter.

After an exhilarating 15 years in the field, working with elk, bighorn sheep, bears, mountain lions, and many more of the “charismatic megafauna,” I wanted to make a lasting contribution to wildlife conservation at a national level.  So I went from the San Carlos Apache Reservation, where I was serving as the Recreation and Wildlife Department director, to the University of Arizona for a Ph.D. in renewable natural resources studies.  I minored in political science so I could work my way into public policy.  My dissertation was a policy analysis of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and I used an approach called “policy design theory,” developed in part by another renowned scholar, political scientist Helen Ingram, who I was honored to have on my committee.  

Policy design theory requires the analyst to account for the context within which a policy functions (or doesn’t).  I analyzed numerous angles of the context, but I always felt the most direct and relevant angle was the causes of species endangerment.  After all, if weren’t for those causes, we wouldn’t need an ESA.  Conversely, the ESA was all about preventing or rectifying the causes.  Tabulating the causes was a laborious (and often depressing) task; the resulting database included all 877 species listed as threatened or endangered at the time, with 18 columns representing distinct causes of endangerment.  Although the causes were distinctive enough for categorization, the “average species” was imperiled by approximately 4 such causes, and all the causes seemed intertwined.

After populating this database night after night for many long nights, followed by a bit of reflection on policy design theory, it suddenly struck me that the causes of species endangerment could aptly be described as a Who’s Who of the American economy!  This, I felt, was an important finding.  In a way, it seemed like a no-brainer, but it was important because the policy context of ESA was one in which a primary, perennial, and bipartisan goal of the American public and polity was economic growth.  So here we had two stated goals of the United States – economic growth and species conservation – that seemed to be fundamentally at odds.  Meanwhile the primacy of economic growth as a policy goal was especially clear in the 1990’s.  During the 1992 presidential campaign, when asked to identify the most important policy issue, candidate Bill Clinton responded, “It’s the economy, stupid!”  Once elected, he and his cabinet were fond of exclaiming, “There is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment!”  

After reporting on the causes of endangerment in Science (Czech and Krausman 1997), while still a student (albeit an older-than-average student), I started broaching this topic – the conflict between economic growth and wildlife conservation – in classes, conferences of professional natural resources societies, and papers (e.g., Czech 2000a, Czech et al. 2000).  The responses astounded me.  From one side would come, “No Czech, you’re wrong, there is no conflict between economic growth and wildlife conservation,” as if they were all members of the President’s cabinet.  Oddly enough, the other camp would submit, “Of course there’s a conflict between economic growth and wildlife conservation!  But we’re wildlife biologists.  We don’t do economic policy.”  The cumulatively response was to the effect, “Go away!”  

So I went away, to the library.  I was less concerned about the fatalists in the second camp than the argumentative folks in the first camp who disagreed with my assessment.  Did they know something I didn’t?  It didn’t seem like they’d even studied the topic, but they were outspoken about it, so I had to investigate further to assure them and myself that I knew what I was talking about.  Using keywords and phrases such as “economic growth,” “wildlife conservation,” and numerous others, I eventually stumbled upon the ecological economics literature, which wasn’t nearly as prominent then as it is now.  I also noticed that, with the phrase “economic growth,” I kept seeing the name “Daly.”

It is a fuzzy memory, that first Daly article.  I think it was “Introduction to the Steady-State Economy,” not even the whole article but rather the condensed version from an amazing collection of papers in A Survey of Ecological Economics (Krishnan et al. 1995).  Condensed or not, the material in that introduction alone gave me the sense that I was suddenly onto the most potent policy implications ever written for wildlife conservation!  It basically had “the” answer: the steady state economy in which wildlife and biodiversity in general could be conserved indefinitely.  It seemed my highlighter couldn’t get enough of that article, but it would take me a little longer to realize that the implications of Daly’s work went far, far beyond wildlife conservation.

When I “discovered” ecological economics and in particular Daly’s work on the steady state economy, I hadn’t yet completed my dissertation on the ESA.  That was a good thing, for I still had time to conclude by interpreting the ESA as an implicit prescription for a steady state economy, albeit one with numerous species lined up on a ledge in the one-way canyon of extinction (Czech and Krausman 2001).  But the conclusion of my dissertation was only the beginning of my immersion in ecological economics, and I continued to find the steady state economy the most distinguishing feature in ecological economics and the most important concept for ecological and economic sustainability (Czech 2009). 

Testing the Waters of Steady State Politics

Empowered and emboldened by ecological economics and the concept of the steady state economy, I went back to the wildlife profession to set the record straight on economic growth and wildlife conservation.  I discovered that some of the older members, especially, of The Wildlife Society (TWS) were more-or-less familiar with Daly’s work.  I was puzzled why they weren’t espousing it for the rest of the members (more on that later.)  I proposed that TWS adopt a position on economic growth, a position that would identify the steady state economy as an alternative to economic growth and an alternative that was consistent with wildlife conservation (Czech 2000a).  I said that a TWS position could help refute the fallacious political rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment,” which by then I’d learned was not just Clintonian but bipartisan.  

To my knowledge, this was the first attempt to get a professional natural resource society to venture into the policy terrain of economic growth.  It was also a rude awakening for me.  It turned out that the two earlier camps I’d encountered in the wildlife profession weren’t about to break ranks and rally around the proposed position, anointing me a new buddy for whom to buy beers.  Instead, it seemed like they circled the wagons and fired arrows at the proposal – lots of arrows!  To describe all the sordid details of what it took to get TWS to adopt a position on economic growth is beyond the scope of a festschrift (or maybe anything in print).  Suffice it to say that it took much more than the six years of debates, symposia, papers, committees, working groups, and other conventional professional society communications that go on the record.  Lectures, visits, emails, listserves, phone calls, pleasantries, arguments, negotiations, exhortations, pleas… the ratio of unpublished written and spoken words to words published in the literature seemed an exorbitant price for someone seeking to establish an academic publication record.  It turned out to be well worth it, but let this be a warning to any young (or old) man or woman who would advocate a steady state economy:  Be prepared for a lot of silly, and some not-so-silly, even slanderous accusations.  According to some, you’re probably already a communist, an elitist, a pessimist, or a combination of these and sundry pariah traits.  

After I wrote Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train, Stanley Marsh (the Texan known for burying Cadillacs on his “Cadillac Ranch,” rear ends thrust toward the heavens in a Texas-sized attempt at art) wrote to tell me flatly, among other things, “You don’t like them [the Cadillacs] because you are an old stick in the mud.  You don’t understand the American dream… You, Czech, are a communist and an anarchist.”  

As I’ve learned over the years, a lot of people just don’t want to hear about limits to growth, the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, or the steady state economy.  People are uncomfortable with conflict in general and many won’t deal with what they label “pessimistic” analyses of economic growth, no matter how accurate the analyses are.  Still others, with a strategy of sorts, think that dwelling on such “negative” prospects doesn’t keep them in the pleasant majority where politics are easier and grant money flows.  Let’s brace ourselves for the fact that this is the same type of convenient escapism that led Prime Minister Chamberlain and the rest of Europe to stand by idly, presumably practicing their positive thinking, while the Nazis rolled into Poland.  

“Wait just a minute,” some may be thinking, “did I just hear what I thought I heard?  Did we really have to infest a pleasant festschrift with a violent World War II metaphor?”  Unfortunately, the metaphor could hardly be more relevant, and we ought to think about it deeply.  One of the underlying pressures that empowered the Nazis was the German need for the land, space, and natural capital they called “lebenschraum.”  All the Nobel prize-winning economists in the rarefied world of the ivory tower couldn’t have convinced the Nazis that unlimited economic growth could be administered within the confines of the German state!  In the real world, economic growth requires more land, and those with overly aggressive aspirations for growth will take the land from others.  That’s not a negative or positive vision; that’s just reality.

We can only wish that the steady state economy, or at least progress toward establishing steady states, had become a source of civilized national pride long before the wars in Europe took on their industrial, globalized, genocidal nature.  Surely then the international financial institutions borne out of World War II would have taken a different course.  The World Bank (or whatever it would have been called), for example, may have focused more on ecological sustainability and international economic justice than global economic growth.  Unfortunately, the World Bank wouldn’t have a Herman Daly until 1988, and by then, crisis wasted, the World Bank wasn’t ready to listen.

“Whatever Happened to Daly’s Stuff?”

    Numerous times I’ve heard people inquire, as I would paraphrase the collective inquiry, “Whatever happened to Daly’s stuff?”  The articles and books are published, pulsing with policy implications, yet we see precious few implications circulating into the policy arena.  Early on, I was asking the same question; for example, during my experience with The Wildlife Society.  Now, after ten years of advocating the steady state economy, I’ve developed enough understanding of what happened to Daly’s stuff to write about it.  The basic categories to explain what happened include:  1) political economy, in particular the effects of “Big Money;” 2) lack of transdisciplinary experience in academia and the polity; 3) non-newsy nature of steady state economics; and, 4) egos and competition for leadership in academia and politics.  These categories are presented in estimated order of importance, but it is also important to understand that these categories tend to be mutually reinforcing.  

Political Economy and Sustainability

Daly’s work won’t be championed by Big Money anytime soon, which makes it more difficult to get it into the New York houses, broadcast media, big-screen documentaries, and the policy arena itself.  By “Big Money” I mean the most prominent and powerful growth interests such as the World Bank, Wall Street, corporations, and the Federal Reserve System.  First, Big Money is unlikely to encounter a Daly publication.  Second, if it does, it is more likely to ignore or suppress it than to study or circulate it.  That is not to say there aren’t individuals within Big Money who have studied Daly’s work and agree with it.  Of course there are.  But here we are talking about political economy; the systemic functioning of the integrated political and economic system, replete with trends and probabilities.  For every Daly thesis that might be circulated by a corporate shareholder, how many antitheses are circulated by a corporate board or corporate think tank?  Or by a university’s economics department whose research is corporately funded?

Compare Daly with the late business professor Julian Simon, who argued that perpetual population growth is not only possible but desirable because it results in perpetually more brains to compensate for the problems of growth, and then some.  He called this salesmanship a “grand theory.”  Various forms of “enterprise institute” lined up to praise such an “optimistic view” and “positive vision,” to get more of Simon’s books on the shelves, and to construct a sort of pro-growth folk hero who had proved all those negative tree-huggers wrong.  Few people know that Simon’s first book was about how to establish a mail-order service, because Big Money didn’t include that in the hype.  

Simon’s salesmanship lives on with the new poster child of the enterprise institutes, the self-proclaimed “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg.  Meanwhile, the aspiring Dalyists are kept down by lack of support.  That experience may come as a discouraging surprise to the Dalyists, because most of them come out of an academic background and are accustomed to publications rising to the top based on peer review and scientific merit.  But this brings us to the topic of transdisciplinary experience.  With regard to Big Money, let me close by recommending Global Spin (Beder 2002) as a cure for acute cases of naiveté.  For those with less acute cases (or less time on their hands), an overview of the iron triangle of economic growth is much better than nothing (Czech et al. 2003).

Lack of Transdisciplinary Experience in Academia and the Polity

Ecological economics arose partly as a response to the fact that economists didn’t know enough about ecology, and ecologists didn’t know enough about economics.  That much is still true in conventional economics and ecological circles.  The ecological economics community stands out as a refreshing exception (although there are non-refreshing non-exceptions mingling therein).  The mutual ignorance between economics and ecology is especially problematic for addressing limits to growth, or the “scale” issue as it’s known in ecological economics, thanks to Daly.

In my experience, the more vexing ignorance is among ecologists, who often do not know so much as the meaning of economic growth.  It’s easy to argue that there is no conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, Big Money smiling down on you and your program, when you invent your own meaning of economic growth.   Of course this problem is exacerbated by the fact that the phrase “economic growth” is often used in multiple ways among economists themselves.  But this isn’t much of an excuse.  “Cat” is used in many ways, but that seldom derails a meaningful discussion about Felis catus.  If terms may have more than one meaning, they simply have to be clarified when necessary.  That is why Daly’s long-standing effort to distinguish between economic growth and economic development is so important for policy purposes.  But again, not many ecologists are yet familiar with Daly, for all of the reasons in this section on Daly’s stuff.  And there are other problems within the ecological sciences community when it comes to engaging macroeconomic policy, including an understandable propensity to eschew social and political affairs (Czech 2002).  

This is not to say that the ecological ignorance of neoclassical economists is far less vexing than the economic ignorance of ecologists.  Perhaps in a technical sense it is even more vexing, because as Daly pointed out early on, the economist begins with a different pre-analytic vision, and that vision was derived without paying heed to some basic natural science.  Most importantly, and most prominently revealed in Daly’s work, is the ignoring of the first two laws of thermodynamics.  A good grasp of those two laws, greatly aided no doubt by some real-world experience with materials and mechanical devices, is essential for “getting” limits to growth.  Conversely, without citing these laws, the ecologist cannot authoritatively refute an economist’s (or any freewheeling technological optimist’s) argument that we can have perpetual economic growth through technological progress (Czech 2008).  

Economists are even less likely familiarized with principles of ecology.  That is why they also don’t realize that ecologists are economists; namely, economists of nature, dealing with production and consumption, competition, allocation of resources, and many of the same phenomena that “regular” economists deal with.  (Ecologists don’t realize that either.)  Ecologists just happen to practice their economics with any or all species, and of course their jargon is distinct.  Perhaps the only thing that is truly, fundamentally distinctive about the human economy is the monetary sector.  Ironically, monetary economics would benefit most of all from the basics of ecology, most notably trophic theory, which so clearly demonstrates that real money originates from agricultural and extractive surplus and is therefore a real reflection of throughput (Czech 2000b).  

The point here is not to sling mud left and right, but to help readers understand that ecological economics is not amenable to conveying with sound bytes or word-of-mouth.  Ecological economics is not the proverbial rocket science, but it is a distinct combining of the social and natural sciences that many scholars have not been inclined to undertake.  One can’t go to a conference of the American Economic Association and get an open forum back on the track to reality by citing Daly’s application of the entropy law to productive efficiency.  It is quite possible in such a venue to be totally correct and concurrently castigated as a kook.  Economists and ecologists alike will need to digest for themselves at least the basics of Daly’s work, and for such basics I still recommend 36 pages:  “Introduction to Essays Toward a Steady-State Economy” (Daly 1994:11-47).  

Unfortunately, many ecological economists with a solid background in Daly’s work will still fall short of steady state political productivity.  Ecological economics is transdisciplinary in nature, but thus far the ecological economics community has produced very little political science, much less action.  Bringing a Dalyist movement into public policy will require a much more sophisticated understanding of concepts pertaining to the framing of rhetoric, the development of political power, and the political characteristics of the macroeconomic policy arena.  It will also require much more fortitude to “tell it like it is” in the face of political pressure, on the campus and in the polity per se.

Non-Newsy Nature of Steady State Economics

It would greatly help to increase the political viability of the steady state economy if the news media were actively investigating and reporting on it.  Unfortunately the steady state economy isn’t the type of thing that grabs the media.  It’s not a person, place, or event.  Herman Daly is a person, but is, as noted above, a gentleman.  He is not an elected official, a movie star, or a raving lunatic gunning down innocents, so he won’t be in the national news based on his profile or behavior.  

Sometimes a scholarly gentleman with a world-changing idea will make the news, but it’s because the idea will result in an observable, dramatic event or otherwise have an observable dramatic effect.  When it comes to moving from the goal and process of economic growth to the goal and process of a steady state economy, perhaps nothing could be less observable or dramatic.  This is not the kind of transition that will inspire (thank goodness) a bloody revolution.  Of course it will make very big news if the steady state economy is ever signed into law as a policy goal, for example as an amendment to the Full Employment Act, but there are a great many lesser, incremental policy developments toward a steady state economy that, unfortunately, will not make the news and will not, therefore, help to empower further movement toward a steady state.    

For example, consider the adjusting of the federal funds rate by the Fed.  This invariably makes the news.  It features a high-profile person (Fed Chairman) announcing a decision that results in an observable and often dramatic event (bedlam at the New York Stock Exchange).  Let us assume that the Fed has been planning to lower the rate to stimulate economic growth.  The question for the news is how much the rate will be lowered.  If the decision comes down to the Chairman, who happened to finally read Daly’s Beyond Growth in response to another financial meltdown, it is conceivable that the Chairman, with new and unsettling thoughts of uneconomic growth, would lower the rate an eighth of a percentage point less than he or she would have.  This would be a compromise and, in a sense, could even be classified as an incremental movement toward steady state monetary policy because it amounts to a slightly less pro-growth adjustment.  Yet this part won’t make the news.  No one will even know about it unless the Chairman makes a point of acknowledging it publicly.  Once again, forthrightness and fortitude are required, in this case for making the steady state economy newsworthy and connecting it explicitly with monetary policy.

The newsworthiness of steady state economics may be changing, though.  At the time of writing, the steady state economy seems to be appearing in opinion columns, editorials, and letters to editors more frequently than ever.  This is due primarily to the financial crisis of 2008, which could be the beginning of a protracted and deep depression.  It is one of those moments in history when people far and wide are looking for alternatives to conventional economic thinking – a “teachable moment.”  But the uptick of steady state journalism shouldn’t be exaggerated.  Ecological economics and the steady state economy remain virtual unknowns in the world of politics and policy, and that is unlikely to change unless the media covers it prominently and for a protracted period.  

This brings us back to the previous two sections on Big Money and transdisciplinarity.  Mainstream media are controlled to a significant extent by Big Money, and journalists and reporters suffer from the same lack of transdisciplinary expertise as economists and ecologists.  Journalism and newscasting on the steady state economy is not out of the question, but it will take charismatic people, creatively crafted events, and maybe some dumb luck to attract the mainstream media.  

Egos and Competition for Leadership in Academia and Politics

    There aren’t many academics in politics, but there are plenty of politicians in academia.  As with elected officials, many of the figures in academia are attracted to the limelight or driven there by ego.  Many a student and incidental campus visitor has commented on the arrogance effused by well-known scholars.  This isn’t the place for analyzing or speculating on the psychology of scholarship, especially when the subject of the festschrift is known for undue modesty, but it is a phenomenon that plays a role in hampering the political advancement of the steady state economy.  

    Scholars rise to a place of prominence for different reasons than politicians per se.  Politicians can become quite renowned simply for pleasing or appeasing enough constituents; providing enough pork as it were.  Scholars usually become prominent because they have done something intellectually original, or at least something they have been able to package in an original manner.  The latter is an important distinction with direct relevance to steady state politics.  Scholars are jockeying for positions as leaders in sustainability science.  A scholar may fully realize that a sustainable economy is a steady state economy.  The problem is that the phrase “steady state economy” has already been “taken” in the academe.  When the phrase is uttered, it invariably invokes the name of Herman Daly.  Therefore, developing a research or community service program around the steady state economy, at least by that name, will make it more difficult to carve out a unique niche in the upper echelons of sustainability science.  The result is a constant re-packaging and re-branding process in which precious little original contribution is made.  I wrote about this with regard to the part-fad, part-original 1990’s movement toward “ecosystem management,” which provided elbow space and grant-writing opportunities for numerous academics (Czech 1995).

Unfortunately, in real-time politics, where decisions are made that directly affect or create public policy, name recognition is a key variable.  This means that the continual coining of new phrases in academia has the effect of disempowering the common subject matter – economic sustainability in this case – in the polity.  It’s a real tragedy of the campus commons.

A Foundation for a Steady State Political Platform

Due to its transdisciplinary and non-newsy nature, the steady state economy is unlikely to inspire a grassroots political movement.  Certain grassroots movements (for example, away from conspicuous consumption) will be conducive to the establishment of a steady state economy, but for the steady state to be established as an economic policy goal, focused political activity by a dedicated cadre of Dalyists is required.  Where do we start?  

First, we need to consider where we are coming from.  Most Dalyists are, or are going to be, relatively highly educated, transdisciplinary students and scholars, which means a logical starting place for advancing the steady state economy is the scientific or scholarly professional community.  It’s where we are and where we know people.  We may not have been born with a silver spoon in our collective political mouth, with a leg up on Capitol Hill, but we are in a key position nevertheless, for purposes of political and economic reform.  That’s because we can provide leverage for individuals and organizations that are “players” in the development of public opinion and public policy.  

Let us consider the professional society position statement as a means by which to advance the steady state economy.  I believe these positions are crucial to advancing the steady state economy and keeping it supported once it reaches critical mass in political affairs.  I wouldn’t claim that professional society position statements are the only means or an absolutely essential condition for the establishment of a steady state economy.  Miraculous alternatives toward any objective are theoretically possible.  However, I would argue that the professional society position statement constitutes the optimum approach for Dalyists, at this point in history, when we consider not only our starting point but the nature of the subject, the opposition, and the economic policy arena.  An adequate collection of these position statements will comprise a firm foundation for organizations and politicians to stand upon as they seek to educate the public on the perils of growth and as they propose macroeconomic policy reforms (Czech 2007).  

After ten years of advancing such positions in professional natural resources societies, and even given the modest results, I am more convinced than ever that not only the positions themselves but the position-taking efforts are key to establishing steady state economies.  To start with, these efforts have helped Dalyists to identify one another and capitalize on our complementary strengths.  For example, The Wildlife Society’s Working Group for the Steady State Economy, by virtue of its name, assembles TWS members who can safely surmise that they are indeed among members who are interested in advancing the steady state economy.  The working group provides an official voice to other TWS interests and leadership, helping to spread awareness of the steady state economy as the macroeconomic condition necessary for wildlife conservation.  Its mere existence, with strength in numbers, helps to empower individuals and units in other professional natural resources societies to form groups with similar traits and effects; for example, the Working Group for Ecological Economics and Sustainability Science in the Society for Conservation Biology.  

An overlooked benefit of these position-taking efforts is the political experience gained by the participants.  A professional natural resources society, and for that matter any similarly sized society or group, is like a crucible in which many of the same types of issues, concerns, and personalities are squished together and forced to react.  Taken together, these efforts among the various professional societies constitute an experiment of sorts, an uncontrolled experiment with elements of “adaptive management.”  Participants learn about the technical issues of the steady state economy, the political issues, the personal concerns of career-minded members, the comparative effectiveness of rhetorical style in different types of venues (for example, the symposium vs. the committee meeting vs. the open forum), and the uses and abuses of political power that affect collective decision-making.  In this crucible, political leadership is forged for advancing the steady state economy in “real” polities ranging from municipalities to international unions.  A few people involved in these professional society efforts are already advancing a steady state economy as a policy goal in city, state, and national political offices, using their campaigns to educate voters about the steady state economy.  

And that is only the fringe benefit of professional society position-taking!  The prize is the position itself, or rather the positions.  Thus far, positions have been taken by the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics (2003), The Wildlife Society (2004), Society for Conservation Biology’s North America Section (2004), American Society of Mammalogists (2007), and British Columbia Field Ornithologists (2007).  Semi-professional organizations have also adopted positions, including the Federation of British Columbia Naturalists (“BC Nature”) (2008).  These positions mean something; they are no mere slips of paper.  For example, as a conservation biologist in the national office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, toward the end of the second Clinton Administration, I proposed that we (Fish and Wildlife Service) develop a campaign to educate the public on the trade-off between economic growth and wildlife conservation.  The relevant assistant director (the one between me and the director) brought me to his office and stated, in a nutshell, “Brian, you get us a position on economic growth by The Wildlife Society and some of the other societies, and then we’ll talk about it.”  This was a straight-shooter who was dead serious.  Unfortunately, his ability to act was compromised by political developments subsequent to that.  But the point is that political appointees striving to do the right thing need cover, or a foundation to stand upon, if they are going to support an initiative that could make waves for the politician who does the appointing.  It is also worth noting that this particular appointee modified his own speeches to avoid the win-win growth-conservation rhetoric and help educate the public about the trade-off.

I could list dozens, and with a better memory probably hundreds, of experiences in which the presence or absence of a professional society position statement on economic growth made a difference in the decision or decision-making process of a leader in a capacity to direct significant resources toward advancing the steady state economy.  Frankly it would be inane to think such positions wouldn’t make a political difference!  Another way of looking at the utility of the professional society position statement is to consider nascent attempts at steady statism in the absence of such positions.  For example, toward the end of the Environmental Movement in the U.S., after Limits to Growth was published (and Daly’s Steady State Economics), a few environmental organizations took up the topics of population growth and economic growth.  Friends of the Earth, for example, began raising awareness about limits to growth, and even received some coverage in U.S. News and World Report as a result.  But they were quickly washed away in the tide of political economy, discredited as nothing but “friends of the earth.”  Now if they had been able to base their educational campaign upon a stack of dry, scientific, professional positions that clarified beyond a doubt the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, the campaign would have been far more durable and effective.  This should be a matter of common sense, but in conversations with me, Brent Blackwelder (President of Friends of the Earth, then and now) has verified that, indeed, professional society position statements would have been – and would be – of great help.

Yet naysayers will claim such positions are useless, and perhaps to them they will be.  A vehicle is only as useful as the operator.  I’ll take my cue from Herman Daly himself, who once told me that these professional society position statements, few as there were (and still are, at the time of this writing), were the most encouraging development he had seen in the advancement of the steady state economy!

Other Means and Movements

Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy
Position on Economic Growth

Whereas:

  1. Economic growth, as defined in standard economics textbooks, is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services, and; 
  2. Economic growth occurs when there is an increase in the multiplied product of population and per capita consumption, and;
  3. The global economy grows as an integrated whole consisting of agricultural, extractive, manufacturing, and services sectors that require physical inputs and produce wastes, and;
  4. Economic growth is often and generally indicated by increasing real gross domestic product (GDP) or real gross national product (GNP), and;
  5. Economic growth has been a primary, perennial goal of many societies and most governments, and;
  6. Based upon established principles of physics and ecology, there is a limit to economic growth, and;
  7. There is increasing evidence that global economic growth is having negative effects on  long-term ecological and economic welfare ...

Therefore, CASSE takes the position that: 
  1. There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection (for example, biodiversity conservation, clean air and water, atmospheric stability), and;
  2. There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and the ecological services underpinning the human economy (for example, pollination, decomposition, climate regulation), and;
  3. Technological progress has had many positive and negative ecological and economic effects and may not be depended on to reconcile the conflict between economic growth and long-term ecological and economic welfare, and;
  4. Economic growth, as gauged by increasing GDP, is an increasingly dangerous and anachronistic goal, especially in wealthy nations with widespread affluence, and;
  5. A steady state economy (that is, an economy with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating product of population and per capita consumption) is a viable alternative to a growing economy and has become a more appropriate goal in  large, wealthy economies, and;
  6. The long-run sustainability of a steady state economy requires its establishment at a size small enough to avoid the breaching of reduced ecological and economic capacity during expected or unexpected supply shocks such as droughts and energy shortages, and;
  7. A steady state economy does not preclude economic development, a dynamic, qualitative process in which different technologies may be employed and the relative prominence of economic sectors may evolve, and;
  8. Upon establishing a steady state economy, it would be advisable for wealthy nations to assist other nations in moving from the goal of economic growth to the goal of a steady state economy, beginning with those nations currently enjoying high levels of per capita consumption, and;
  9. For many nations with widespread poverty, increasing per capita consumption (or, alternatively, more equitable distributions of wealth) remains an appropriate goal).

Plenty of political efforts and movements have shown that the steady state economy is a potentially viable policy goal.  For anyone doubting this observation, I recommend using Google news alerts to monitor the phrase “steady state economy” for awhile.  You’ll see letters to editors around the world urging politicians and governments to move toward the steady state economy.  Book authors have a renewed or new interest in limits to growth and the steady state economy.  Politicians pop up here and there advocating the steady state economy.  This is a trend that, while certainly accelerating in 2008, is certainly not guaranteed a long continuance or a high plateau.  What is needed is an expanding group of Dalyists: people with enough knowledge of ecological economics, fortitude, and savvy to function effectively in the polity.  

The foundation of professional society position statements needs to be laid thicker and firmer.  More such professional societies should take such positions, and the positions need to be stronger than some of the existing positions (see for example Gates et al. 2006).  But the professional society position-taking needn’t delay all other prospective efforts.  It is time for the less academic non-governmental organizations known as “the NGO community” to get to work for the steady state, beginning with the conservation and environmental NGOs.  There is already enough of a platform of scientifically derived, professional society technical papers and position statements for them to stand upon.  They should be developing educational campaigns to refute the fallacious political rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment,” and they should not shy away from the phrase “steady state economy” to identify the sustainable economic policy.  

Any individual or organization contemplating steady state advocacy will be empowered not only by Daly’s original work and the professional society position statements, but also by the growing list of signatories to the position on economic growth taken by the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE).  By January 1, 2009, this position had been signed by over 2,100 individuals and endorsed by more than 50 organizations concerned with a wide range of issues including the environment, social justice, and public health.  Even a mutual fund had endorsed the CASSE position.  At this point, no one has to feel like they are sticking their neck out by advocating a steady state economy.  With Daly as the key advisor on a highly reputable Board of Advisors, CASSE is developing unprecedented political support for the steady state economy, and the CASSE position on economic growth may be taken and tailored to produce positions with more focus on particular aspects of social welfare (see inset).  For example, the North America Section of the Society for Conservation Biology took a position on economic growth that is virtually identical to the CASSE position, except for including additional references to biodiversity conservation.  

When enough positions and educational campaigns have been developed, the time will have come to advance the steady state economy into mainstream political and policy-making venues.  In fact, for smaller polities, enough leverage already exists for serious dialog on the steady state economy as a policy goal.  For example, a commission in Bloomington, Indiana has tailored the CASSE position on economic growth to advance the steady state economy within the Bloomington polity and to the broader American polity (Bloomington Environmental Commission 2008).  The commission is now working with the city council, seeking adoption of the position by the city at large.

As the signatures and endorsements of the CASSE position grow, larger polities and policy-making units will be approachable.  The obvious entities will include city councils, county commissions, and state and national legislatures, executives, and even judiciaries.  For example, the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Kelo v. New London, which should be infamous among ecological economists and especially Dalyists, may be used as precedent to rule in favor of municipalities using economic growth and development as a reason to exercise eminent domain over long-standing, low-footprint homeowners.  Steady staters should be ready to issue an amicus brief, heavily footnoted with Daly references, noting that economic growth is not a “public purpose” (the phrase used in Kelo to describe increasing economic activity) when growth has actually become uneconomic.  Such a brief may not win the day in court, but it will surely produce an educable moment, and perhaps a sustained one.

Political parties are other venues for advancing the steady state economy.  The Green Party of the United States installed a plank on the steady state economy in its 2004 platform.  Several other Green Parties around the world have explicitly supported the steady state economy, including at least the Green Party of England and Wales, the Green Party of Ireland, and to a less explicit degree the Green Party of the Netherlands.  Provincial governments in Ontario and British Columbia have also adopted the steady state economy in their platforms.

Political movements mustn’t necessarily explicate the steady state economy as a policy goal to have the effect of advancing the steady state.  For example , the movement for “La Décroissance,” emanating from France to other parts of Europe, has followers and observers wondering what comes after an episode of “degrowth,” for in the long run degrowth is no more sustainable than growth.  Clearly they, too, will “discover” the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative, much like those of us who discovered it as an answer to biodiversity conservation and environmental protection in general.  In fact, the Declaration of the Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity (Paris, 2008) included the establishment of a steady state economy as the long-term goal.  At least two other economic movements, toward the “Sufficiency Economy” in Thailand and the pursuit of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, are conducive to raising awareness of the steady state economy as an explicit and desirable economic policy goal.  The same may be said for the “transition towns” arising in the U.K. and other parts of Europe.  In the U.S., Community Solutions and other NGOs are assisting local communities to adapt to Peak Oil and build self-sufficient, stabilized economies.  Community Solutions has also endorsed the CASSE position on economic growth.

The Biggest is Yet to Come

In ecological economics, where limits to growth are acknowledged, the measure of success is qualitative development, not quantitative growth.  However, when it comes to politics, a lot of qualitative results boil down to quantities, as in quantities of voters, initiatives, candidates, parties, and policy proposals.  We need big numbers for the steady state economy: big numbers of ecological economists, Dalyists, and steady staters in general, initiating big numbers of campaigns in big numbers of organizations.  

Only after the numbers are sufficient will we have a legitimate chance to have an effect in venues such as national legislatures and presidential transition teams.  We can go talk to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Council of Economic Advisors, and even the Fed, but they are unlikely to be impressed until we have tens of thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations on record as supporting the establishment of a steady state economy.  It is certainly not too early, however, to engage communities far and wide in working toward local steady state economies with stabilized populations and ecological footprints.  The nascent Citizens for the Steady State Economy is an organization that could help to precipitate a widespread movement of this nature.  

Perhaps in a future commemorative for Herman Daly, authors will be waxing joyously on ubiquitous political movements and mainstream parties that have adopted the steady state economy.  Perhaps, some years after that, the steady state economy will be a commonly adopted public policy goal and a standard of good citizenship in international diplomacy.  This is a vision of the future sufficient to proceed with.  We already know plenty about what needs to be done to get there.  May there be plenty of Dalyists to do it!  

References

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Glossary

Citation

Czech, B. (2013). Herman Daly Festschrift: May There Be Dalyists: Politics for a Steady State Economy. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbee027896bb431f6957aa

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