Retired economics professor Herman Daly has been at the forefront of the movement to establish a viable alternative to “neoclassical” (i.e., mainstream) economics for more than four decades.Usually called ecological economics or steady-state economics, this alternative is based on an ineluctable truth – that all human economies, and the “human enterprise” in aggregate – are but a subset, albeit an ever larger one, of the biosphere or ecosphere.
Not only that, but the human economy is utterly dependent upon “nature’s economy.” And this implies that the scale of the human economy is also constrained or limited by the ecosphere. The economics profession, in contrast, sees the Earth and the ecosphere (or the global environment and natural resources) as merely the substitutable backdrop and stage upon which we self-centered humans prance and strut our stuff – and ever more stuff at that.
Daly has vigorously promoted the idea of “uneconomic growth,” that is, growth that makes us poorer rather than richer. To the economics profession this is apostasy. So just who is this “apostate”?
Born and raised in Texas, Daly earned his B.A. from Rice University and his doctorate at Vanderbilt. There he studied under another notable non-conformist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, author of the formidable book Entropy and the Economic Process. Over his career, Daly was a professor of economics at Louisiana State University, senior economist at the World Bank’s Environment Department, and senior research scholar at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.
Daly has authored and edited a number of books, including Toward a Steady-State Economy (1973), Steady-State Economics (1977), and Beyond Growth (1996). He co-founded the journal Ecological Economics and has been active with the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE), among other contributions.
Professor Daly has been recognized internationally for his pioneering work – just not by his own economics profession! He received Sweden’s Honorary Right Livelihood Award, the Heineken Prize for Environmental Science (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), Tufts University’s Leontief Prize, the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic, and the National Council for Science and the Environment Lifetime Achievement Award.
In his recent essay on the CASSE website, Daly comments that: “In yesteryear’s empty world capital was the limiting factor in economic growth. But we now live in a full world.”
His withering critique continues:
"…even though the benefits of further growth are now less than the costs, our decision-making elites have figured out how to keep the dwindling extra benefits for themselves, while "sharing" the exploding extra costs with the poor, the future, and other species. The elite-owned media, the corporate-funded think tanks, the kept economists of high academia, and the World Bank – not to mention Gold Sacks and Wall Street – all sing hymns to growth in perfect unison, and bamboozle average citizens."
One can see why Daly has never been acclaimed by the “kept economists of high academia!” In another recent essay published by the Population Press, Daly confronts politically correct open borders advocates:
…a policy of open borders obviously invites the tragedy of the open access commons. It is its own reductio ad absurdum…"
And Daly gets to the heart of the matter for population stabilization advocates like Californians for Population Stabilization:
"…with open borders, why would any country any longer try to limit its birth rate, if it is: (a) possible to export its excess population, and, (b) impossible to limit its population, given unlimited immigration?"
Daly’s body of work has been lauded by scientists and environmentalists. Cornucopians on the left and right, economists and politicians are another matter…a work in progress, one hopes?