Ecological Economics by Herman Daly and Joshua Farley is a textbook that I've only just begun to read, but already while browsing it I've found much to ponder, much to disagree with, and much to applaud. Chapter 3 ("Ends, Means, and Policy") quotes my hero John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy—another classic tome that I must add to my too-long and ever-expanding reading list. Mill discusses (in his Book 4, Chapter 6) the "Stationary State" of an economy, where expansion has ceased for both total population and overall production of goods. Mill concurs with Andrew Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth" that huge fortunes should not be passed down from generation to generation, but should be used instead for the greater social good:

... We may suppose, for instance (according to the suggestion thrown out in a former chapter), a limitation of the sum which any one person may acquire by gift or inheritance, to the amount sufficient to constitute a moderate independence. Under this twofold influence, society would exhibit these leading features: a well-paid and affluent body of labourers; no enormous fortunes, except what were earned and accumulated during a single lifetime; but a much larger body of persons than at present, not only exempt from the coarser toils, but with sufficient leisure, both physical and mental, from mechanical details, to cultivate freely the graces of life, and afford examples of them to the classes less favourably circumstanced for their growth. ...

J. S. Mill also argues in favor of the preservation of Nature and against unending growth in the number of people on the planet:

A population may be too crowded, though all be amply supplied with food and raiment. It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. A world from which solitude is extirpated, is a very poor ideal. Solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character; and solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur, is the cradle of thoughts and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society could ill do without. Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature; with every rood of land brought into cultivation, which is capable of growing food for human beings; every flowery waste or natural pasture ploughed up, all quadrupeds or birds which are not domesticated for man's use exterminated as his rivals for food, every hedgerow or superfluous tree rooted out, and scarcely a place left where a wild shrub or flower could grow without being eradicated as a weed in the name of improved agriculture. If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.

Mill concludes that such a stable situation need not be anything like "an unpleasing and discouraging prospect":

It is scarcely necessary to remark that a stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the Art of Living, and much more likelihood of its being improved, when minds ceased to be engrossed by the art of getting on. Even the industrial arts might be as earnestly and as successfully cultivated, with this sole difference, that instead of serving no purpose but the increase of wealth, industrial improvements would produce their legitimate effect, that of abridging labour. Hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish. Only when, in addition to just institutions, the increase of mankind shall be under the deliberate guidance of judicious foresight, can the conquests made from the powers of nature by the intellect and energy of scientific discoverers, become the common property of the species, and the means of improving and elevating the universal lot.

(cf. TheCancerIdeology (1999-05-19), My Religion (2000-11-06), DarkGlory (2001-03-23), ReligionAndReverence (2001-07-08), GrowthAssumptions (2004-04-17), BeatingExpectations (2004-08-13), FeedOrFeedback (2004-09-06), EstateTax (2005-05-06), SocialWealth (2005-05-18), ...)

TopicEconomics - TopicLiterature - TopicSociety - 2005-06-11

(correlates: Comments on AsIfSoManyMinutes, EcologicalEconomics, IntellectualHeirs, ...)