Economics, like science (I consider economics to be the "dismal art"), will not always be to the favor of the wild. However, most times—if properly applied—it is. For those times it is not, the battle for nature will have to be waged solely on the field of morality.
In this modern western capitalist world, any definition of sustainability must either avow or disavow discount rates and the time-value of money. Depending on the course chosen, the path toward and the ability to reach sustainability are quite different.
There is no money in conservation in the capitalist system. However, there is plenty of money for conservation in a fair and just capitalist economic-democratic government system.
The things that we value most—self, family, community, and environment—are irrational economic investments in the capitalist system. We may well fail to save the Earth—and therefore ourselves—because economists say it is inefficient and accountants say it offers a poor return on capital.
Neoclassical economists feel that if an exact monetary value cannot be ascribed to ecological protection and restoration, then it is without value. While they will often admit that it does actually have a value greater than zero, since it's not easy to quantify, they set the value to zero. The result is that, by failing to guestimate a value, they are precisely wrong instead of being approximately right. Is it not equally troubling for those of us who value nature above profit to not also try to approximate nature's value in an economic market? Unfortunately, if we don't, the default value of nature is zero, not infinity, as it should be.
While excellent at the efficient allocation of goods and services, markets often fail in the allocation of good and service.
Wallowa County Chieftain Columns
Nature Most Powerful Economic Engine argues that if economists properly value natural capital, they know that the total of goods and services provided by nature is worth more than the present global economy.
Money Grows Faster Than Trees argues that growing trees is an irrational economic investment, in this present capitalist system) and that profitable alternatives exist.
Being Green Helps Company Earn More Green argues that green business can pay.
Rocky Mountain Institute is an excellent economic/environment think tank.
We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the gross national product. For the gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of the carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for our people who break them. The gross national product includes the destruction of the redwoods, and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads.... It includes Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and he broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.
And if the gross national product includes al of this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of public officials.... The gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America—except whether we are proud to be Americans.
Robert F. Kennedy
Economists must redefine poverty as a shortage of biomass rather than a shortage of cash. Gross natural product is more relevant to the poor than gross national product.
The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.
Gaylord Nelson, former US Senator from Wisconsin and Counselor to The Wilderness Society
While we should not try to refrain from utilizing resources, we should do so only on a scale that leaves room for future generations. We must consider our planet to be on loan from our children, rather than being a gift from our ancestors.
Gro Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway, director of the World Health Organization
It seems to be a law in American life that whatever enriches us anywhere except in the wallet inevitably becomes uneconomic.
Russell Baker (b. 1925), U.S. journalist. New York Times (24 March 1968).
I held out for a really long time, and when I finally decided to sell out, the price they were paying was so low I was ashamed to take it.
When someone says it's not about the money, it's about the money.
People of the same trade seldom meet, even if for merriment or diversion, but the topic ends in a conspiracy against the public or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)
Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not for every man's greed.
We have to look at trees as a commodity, a property we need a return on. We have the responsibility toward 55,000 stockholders.
Cy Scheider, former-head of Boise-Cascade
Government subsidies can be critically analyzed according to a simple principle. You are smarter than the government, so the government pays you to do something you wouldn't do on your own, it is almost always paying you to do something stupid.
P.J. O'Rouke, All the Trouble in the World
It is better to be roughly right than to be precisely wrong.
John Maynard Keynes
If we grant the premise that an ecological conscience is possible and needed, then its first tenet must be this: economic provocation is no longer a satisfactory excuse for unsocial land-use, (or, to use somewhat stronger words, for ecological atrocities). This, however, is a negative statement. I would rather assert positively that decent land-use should be accorded social rewards proportionate to its social importance.
I have no illusions about the speed or accuracy with which an ecological conscience can become functional. It has required 19 centuries to define decent man-to-man conduct and the process is only half done; it may take as long to evolve a code of decency for man-to-land conduct. In such matters we should not worry too much about anything except the direction in which we travel. The direction is clear, and the first step is to THROW YOUR WEIGHT AROUND on matters of right and wrong in land use. Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays. That philosophy is dead in human relations, and its funeral in land-use relations is overdue.
Aldo Leopold, The Ecological Conscience (1947)
All that glitters is not gold. All who wander are not lost.
The world has 358 known billionaires with a net worth of $760 billion. This $760 billion is equal to the combined incomes of the 2.5 billion poorest people on Earth.
ZPG Reporter (January/February 1997, page 11)
Reduced production and consumption of wasteful products is the key to the whole matter. We do not have to stripmine the farms, rangelands and wildlands of the American West, we do not have to pollute the skies and poison the waters and dam the last of our rivers if we are willing to give up certain of what conventional economists call goods, but what most of us recognize as quite simply junk.
Edward Abbey, "The Second Rape of the West" in Playboy (Dec. 1975)
Goods produced under conditions which do not meet a rudimentary standard of decency should be regarded as contraband and ought not be allowed to pollute the channels of interstate trade.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
I sympathize with those who would minimize, rather than those who would maximize, economic entanglements among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel—these are things that of their nature should be international. But let goods be homespun wherever it is reasonable and conveniently possible, and above all, let finance be primarily national.
John Maynard Keys (1933)
Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality.... The affluence of the rich supposes the indigence of the many.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)
(R)eal needs go unsatisfied; good beer; good, fresh, health food for all; homes and apartments for all that are well made, well designed, comfortable, durable and handsome; quick, easy urban-transit systems; good continental passenger train service; air that's fit to breathe, water that's fit to drink, food that is fit to eat; and now and then, when we want it, some space and solitude and silence. Is that too much to ask of a sane and rational political economy?
Edward Abbey, "The Second Rape of the West," in Playboy (Dec. 1975)
The air, the water, and the ground are free gifts to man and no one has the power to portion them out in parcels, man must drink and breathe and walk and therefore each man has a right to share of each.
James Feminine Cooper, The Prairie (1827)
The whole design of free-market capitalism depends upon free people acting responsibly. Business people must answer not just to the demands of the market or self-interest, but to the demands of conscience. The bottom line of the balance sheet defines a business's goal, but not the sum of responsibilities of its leaders. Management should respect workers. A firm should be loyal to the community, mindful of the environment.
George W. Bush, March 2002
Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience, when it has no soul to be damned and no body to be kicked?
Lord Thurlow, 18th Century English lawyer
Thus far we have considered the problem of conservation of land purely as an economic issue. A false front of exclusively economic determinism is so habitual to Americans in discussing public questions that one must speak in the language of compound interest to get a hearing.
Aldo Leopold, Some Fundamentals of Conservation in the Southwest (1923)