Herman Daly, Benjamin Kunkel et al., Ecologies of Scale, NLR 109, January-February 2018.pdf

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If fidelity to gdp growth amounts to the religion of the modern world, then Herman Daly surely counts as a leading heretic. Arguably the preeminent fig- ure in ecological economics, a field he did much to establish, and the author in his many works of perhaps the most fundamental and eloquently logical case against endless economic growth yet produced, Daly was born in 1938, in Houston, Texas. Then and now the headquarters of the us oil industry and epitome, after World War II, of unplanned urban sprawl, Houston fell victim in summer 2017 to Hurricane Harvey. The lumbering storm, bred on the climate-changed waters of the Gulf of Mexico, doused the city’s built-over wetlands and tangle of freeways in fifty inches of rain, at a cost of scores of lives and tens of billions of dollars. Prophets can’t expect hometown honours, but Houston in particular, among American cities, has flouted Daly’s warn- ings against what he calls ‘growthmania’ or, more neutrally, ‘growthism’. The irony—the heretic hailing from the citadel—took some time to ripen, as Daly explains below. Once he perceived that economic growth could not long continue without forfeiting its ecological basis and moral justification, he achieved a series of breakthroughs. Steady-State Economics (1977) rivals Keynes’s programme of full employment or Hayek’s free-market catallaxy in its visionary force, while exceeding either of these in the scale of its implica- tions. But this was only so much abstract reasoning. Recognizing that gdp could not be displaced as a measure of social well-being and progress without some equally empirical alternative, Daly in 1989 proposed, in collaboration with the Whiteheadean philosopher John Cobb, an Index of Sustainable Human Welfare to assess the wealth of nations. More recently, he has insisted on the theoretical possibility and historical actuality of ‘uneconomic growth’, which ‘occurs when increases in production come at an expense in resources and well-being that is worth more than the items made’. The world today is faced with a pair of contradictory terrors: the economic fear that growth will soon come to an end, and the ecological fear that it will not. Daly has con- ceived a form of society removed from this perplex, though not any historical dynamic that would clear the path to it. INTRODUCTION TO DALY benjamin kunkel
new left review 109 jan feb 2018 81 herman daly ECOLOGIES OF SCALE Interview by Benjamin Kunkel May I start by asking about your background—your upbringing and general formation. Did your parents care much about politics? Were there any influ- ences that contributed to your ideas on ecology and economics? I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. My father had a little hardware store—he’d had to quit school around the eighth grade, at the start of the Great Depression. My mother had worked as a secretary, but the boss insisted she leave when she was pregnant with me; this was 1938. It was hard to make a profit from running a

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