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Sustainable Economics and Ecological Psychology

  1. Jan 20, 2008 #1


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    A former professor and associate of my wife has developed a new field of which I am familiar with some elements.

    The field is Ecological Psychology, and he has written a book entitled, "Ecological Psychology: Creating a More Earth-friendly Human Nature." The book explores the ethics of maximization, and the author "deftly balances the contemporary drive for exponential economic growth against the insights of ancient spiritual tradition and concludes that 'the cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace.'"

    http://ecopsychology.athabascau.ca/1097/howard.htm [Broken]

    It's an interesting perspective and area of study. It also contrasts with excessive or conspicuous consumption which is so prevalent in the world today.
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  3. Jan 20, 2008 #2


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    For some reason I am always drawn to famous names:

    So for some reason I researched how many children each had. (With the exception of Jesus of course). The tally was I think zero to 3. Some of these guys are so old as to be mere legends. But I think the author mentioned them for another reason.

    According to my brain, that's a billion extra people every 10 or so years. Have no one but the Chinese been paying attention?

    And that's just the first 3rd of the synopsis.

    I may be back some day to finish off my analysis of the problem.
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  4. Jan 21, 2008 #3
    I wonder why you consider this a new field, as small is beautiful by E. F. Schumacher springs to mind; it was published first in 1973, but was actually a collection of his essays published in the 50s and 60s.

    plopping in a quote from wikipedia on him:
    I note that the article on him suggests that he broke with Adam Smith, suggests but doesn't say, but Schumacher in many respects followed the path that Smith followed, as reflected in his writings on moral living. As Stein quipped, Adam Smith didn't wear an Adam Smith tie. When Adam Smith said that people act in the market in their self interest, he didn't mean greed, because greed is an immoral attribute.

    Schumacher called Freud one of three culprits; again from wikipedia describing his views, "Freud had made perception subjective through his teaching that perception was subject to the complex interplay of the ego and the id, literally rendering it self-centered."

    Maybe I'm missing the point, and what is new is the slicing and dicing of the ecology, which is the interaction of the total environmental system, into pieces that are then discussed and debated in total isolation from the ecology?

    Economics, for example, evolved away from the framework that Adam Smith operated in, and excluded first morality from economic theory, and then excluding the ecology, and these factors are now pesky external forces that need to be dealt with as exceptions to the perfection of economic theory.

    Will the future be that shrinks will be telling people that they need to think a certain way in order to make the ecology conform to the shinks' Ecological Psychology?
  5. Jan 21, 2008 #4


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    hmmm..... Looks like the author read that book also:

    I had never heard of the following philosophy until I watched the movie Mindwalk:

    And there he quotes Schumacher again:

    I'd better stop or I'm going quote the whole essay.

    I'm afraid I cannot find fault with anything Mr. Howard has written.

    Perhaps I'll just steal his motto and add it to my signature.

    Extremism, even in the service of a virtuous cause, is to be deplored by reasonable people.

    --- G.S.H.
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  6. Feb 2, 2008 #5


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    A fellow EV enthusiast sent the following link to our club recently.
    Articles like this one for some reason have a bigger effect on me than saying the oil is running out. Does anyone know where to get video's of the following?

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  7. Feb 6, 2008 #6


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    Another thought on sensible economics -

    Finding Drucker's vision in all that stuff
    http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/02/04/drucker/ [Broken]
    Commentator Charles Handy reflects on the philosophies of economist Peter Drucker to figure out what to do when a consumer economy starts to buy less stuff. First in an occasional series of commentaries by Charles Handy.

    I agree that 1) business is supposed to serve society and in the process 2) do no harm.
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  8. Feb 6, 2008 #7
    You make it sound as though business is supposed to be considering society as a whole in their decision making process. I totally disagree, as they are supposed to have their customers in mind, and through serving their customers they serve society. There are many things that I probably care about and purchase that you don't and vice versa. To talk about a specific business trying to simultaneously serve everyone is nonsense.

    This totally neglects the idea of trade-offs. Since this thread is related to environmental issues, it should be pointed out that the optimal level of pollution is not zero pollution. Do you realize that it's impossible to enjoy even a modest standard of living without some level of pollution? Do you really expect some of the poorest nations to not become industrialized at the expense of increasing their "carbon footprint?" Do you also realize that in order to escape poverty and have a higher standard of living (which includes non-material things like education, literacy, life expectancy, increased nutrition, more leisure time, etc) they would probably have to pollute more than they currently are?
  9. Feb 7, 2008 #8


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    Yes - a business, even an individual, must consider its/his/her impact on society. The customers/market are part of society.

    I did not suggest that any business "try to serve everyone, and certainly not simultaneously".

    Pollution should be minimized. The poorer nations do not need to be industrialized to the extent of the industrialized nations, and would do better if they didn't.

    I disagree the poor nations would pollute more than they do now in order to escape poverty. Poor and developing nations have an opportunity to escape the nonsense and unnecessary stuff that burdens the industrialized world. All it takes is creativity and diligence.
  10. Feb 7, 2008 #9
    What do you mean "minimized?" Seriously, this is such a vague comment. Minimum pollution would be zero. If not zero, then what level? Also, at what cost?

    They might not "need" to be, but maybe they "want" to be. I'm sure you purchase and consume many things that you don't "need." So why do you purchase and consume these things? I would guess it's because you "want" them. You obviously have computer access and internet access (2 things you clearly don't "need"). You probably own a cell phone and a vehicle of some sort. People buy and do all sorts of things that are not neccessary, so what's your point?
  11. Feb 7, 2008 #10
    I really think such ideas are more about politics then economics? How on earth do you sensibly measure the economic cost of pollution? It is all politician's and often politicians are much worse at making decisions then the free market. The former soviet union was an environmental disaster.

    Some people argue that the best way to protect the environment is to strengthen property rights. The idea being is if people own something they will take good care of it. I'm not sure if the idea of protecting the environment trough property rights is a good idea but at least then the value of the property will be based upon the value which people assign to it.

    If people who own the property value the ecological aspects of the property then they will protect it. I think one weakness of the property rights argument is that it is only punitive. You are penalized for damaging someones property value but you aren't rewarded for enhancing someones property value.

    For instance assuming that we actually cause global warming which to me is a big assumption then you will enhance the property valve of Canadians but may damage the property value of islands which are barely above sea level. Overall warmer temperatures present a more hospitable environment for humans but the people who emit CO2 could still face lawsuits from people who chose to by property too close to sea level.

    I think that environmental commodities which are inherently conman preset difficulty in measuring environmental harm. We all don´t measure air quality in the same way and some people are considerably more sensitive to air quality then others. We all value clean air but for some reason most of us choose to live in cities? Could that be because we may not value clean air as much as we think?
  12. Feb 8, 2008 #11


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    I don't find this any more vague than saying you want to minimize your financial losses.
    Bicyclist's emit CO2. I suppose we could shoot them all because they emit a global warming gas.
  13. Feb 8, 2008 #12


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    And it falls upon us to provide the path. As the world is looking to escalate to our standard of living, we see the numbers, and are looking to live more like them. The world has looked with fascination at America for some time now. If we could all just buy a Mercedes Smart Car next week, it might get some third world country citizens from thinking that owning a Mercedes 500 SLfmp* is "cool".

    *SLfmp = Suck the life from my planet
  14. Feb 11, 2008 #13
    I thought this was kinda funny (and interesting).


  15. Feb 11, 2008 #14
    Sounds a little bit like the objectives that behavioral conditioning was applied to in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walden_Two" [Broken].

    Yes, businesses are expected to consider the public good. That's why they're supposed to take things like the law into account in their decision making process. Many people don't have the kind of integrity it takes to do this on their own - they would readily terrorize and kill people to achieve their objectives, despoil the environment, defraud or manipulate the government, or employ orphans in sweatshops if left to their own devices - so they have to be forced to consider society as a whole.
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  16. Feb 11, 2008 #15
    In my honest opinion we don't have to worry too much about businesses killing people. Generally, this is bad for business (such as if your product actually kills people) and leads to bankruptcy. Even if they wanted to kill people, I doubt people would just stand by and let them (in other words, people would probably defend themselves with whatever means necessary). Do these same laws you speak of always stop criminals from robbing, raping, killing, etc? It seems to me that citizens should be much more worried about governments harming them (in comparison to businesses). I challenge you to name a business that has killed or harmed people in any way even close to tyranical governments.

    Don't get me wrong, as I'm not saying laws are unimportant. Laws are very important. However, I doubt that businesses would be running around killing and plundering without these laws. At the very least, they would definitely not be any more likely to do these things in comparison to anyone else (including citizens). What generally keeps businesses honest is not the law, but rather their own self-interested goals. Ever heard of Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand?" Ever heard of this famous quote from Smith: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

    Lastly, you're also forgetting the fact that legislation can sometimes (often?) be very flawed. In other words, it rarely serves the public good, and often serves the special interest of a selected few (which is one reason so many businesses love the law, because they can use if for their personal gain at the expense of others). Would you defend the legislation that makes many drugs (including marijuana) illegal? Would you defend prohibition? Would you defend legislation that makes it illegal for people to drive taxis without the proper licenses? Would you defend legislation that makes it illegal for people to open up barber shops without the proper licenses? Would you defend legislation that makes it illegal for me to get a job at $3 an hour? Would you defend legislation that makes it illegal for me to trade with whom ever I want (regardless of what continent they live on)? What gives you the right to impose laws on me when I am not threating your safety or your rights?

    Again, businesses are not exactly supposed to serve the "public good." Rather they are supposed to serve their consumers, which is the way in which they serve the public.
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  17. Feb 11, 2008 #16
    I'd be careful here. Law and legislation are not quite the same thing. One is very, very broad and the other is very narrow. Theories like torts and contracts are far more fundamental to law than all this new legislation that gets passed. These theories are part of the common law determined by judges throughout history, not by legislative bodies. Because of that these theories have the benefit of history backing them up all while the concepts get re-shaped and re-defined by new situations.

    Would businesses kill? Probably not these days. That's an exaggeration.

    Could businesses not honor the terms of their contract or try to enforce un-enforceable contracts? It's happened before. Would they engage in horribly negligent actions? Again, it's happened before and it's one of the reasons the law developed in the first place.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2008
  18. Feb 11, 2008 #17
    If you really believe that you are demonstrating ignorance of the history of corporate crime, even recent corporate crime. Businesses kill people all the time. Remember the lead-poisoned toys from China? The equivalent of the Chinese head of the FDA was http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6286698.stm" [Broken] last year for taking bribes to allow things like that to happen after many fatalities.

    The http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster" [Broken]. The wars in the Congo and Central African Republic which mining companies are all too ready to permit and promote while they send armed parties in to bribe warlords and extract resources.

    But of course, I didn't say anything about comparison with governments, I just said that businesses have a duty to promote the public good and avoid harming the public and the public good and they often have to be forced to fulfill that duty. Governments and government officials being irresponsible or acting criminally does not relieve corporations of their own duty to the public good. This is a red herring.

    I don't usually like to sound patronizing but I seriously have to ask, do you know any history at all? That's just about all big business does when it has free rein. Much of the social and political progress that has occurred in the last two centuries has involved restricting wealthy people and wealthy businesses from harming and killing people at their convenience and plundering the public good.

    Citizens also have a duty to promote the public good and avoid harming the public and the public good. The difference is that while citizens (unless they were rich) have always gotten nabbed for breaking the law, through most of history businesses have usually managed to get away with it.

    No, I'm not forgetting it, I didn't say anything at all about legislation being perfect.

    Yes, businesses are supposed to serve the public good. That's the entire justification for the existence of laws forcing them to do so.

    Businesses certainly often wish they didn't have to worry about things like safety and pollution and good husbandry of commonly-owned things like ocean fish stocks, mineral resources, or the radio spectrum, or comply with measures for the public good like zoning regulations. But tough luck for them, they'll just have to run home and throw themselves on their bed and cry big salty tears onto the pillows stuffed with cash.
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  19. Feb 13, 2008 #18
    Yes, law and legislation are different things. According to FA Hayek, law is something that human beings do and design on their own, while legislation is something that is often decided in courts and most people are unaware of.

    My point was that often times businesses honor contracts more for future business (read: profits) instead of legislation. Again, I am not saying that legislation is unimportant, just that it's not the only thing to consider, and that other aspects probably play even a more prominent role in describing organizational behavior.

    Ok, fair enough, maybe I just don't know about the numerous cases in which this happens. I hope you will inform me by listing many of the cases. In order to have some sense of proportion though, we'll need to compare the numbers you get, with the total number of business activity that takes place. I'm sure the results will be that businesses harming people is a very small percentage of the total activity.

    Yes, I remember the Chinese lead toy situation. I also remember it seemed to get handled pretty quickly. To my knowledge, no one was killed due to these toys. I always wondered how drastic the situation really was, and how much of the dramatization was media spin for a good story. I also wondered how the lead in those toys compared to the lead in some of the toys that I played with as a child.

    Do you really think that someone will just get away with selling very harmful toys? Don't you think that if Toys-R-Us started selling toys that were killing people, they'd probably go bankrupt? Don't you also think that Toys-R-Us would probably not trust a producer who sold them harmful toys in the first place? My point is that these things are bad for business, which is precisely why they are rare, and precisely why they get nipped in the bud right away. Just for the record, I do think the legal system is important. If someone's child dies or gets sick because of these toys, they definitely have the right to sue Toys-R-Us.

    I also remember when Jack-in-the-Box had an ecoli break out. Again though, they figured it out soon and took the necessary actions. Furthermore, I'm sure they lost a ton of business for awhile because people were afraid to eat there. I also bet they try really hard to not let it happen again.

    I read the wikipedia article, and it truly is a tradegy. My point is that these things are the exception to the rule.

    I mainly disagree with the statement "they often have to be force to fulfill that duty." The hole argument I am making is that companies help people (as opposed to harm them) precisely because they are greedy, and you can't stay in business very long by screwing over your customers. They don't do it because they care for us, they do it because they care for themselves. That's the reason capitalism works fairly well, because people are given strong incentives to do the right thing most of the time.

    I definitely am not the most versed in history, I will admit that.

    I hope you will fill me in. Explain to me all these wealthy people who completely screwed people over? It seems to me, usually the wealthy people in history who screw people over are political leaders, which is a different story.

    Like I said before, I'm not against legislation. As I see it, people have 3 basic rights (life, liberty, and property) and others cannot interfere with those rights. If a business is plundering one's property, or harming one's life, then they should pay the consequences (just like an individual would). This is totally different from minimum wage legislation, safety legislation, and a whole host of other legislation.

    How do you figure that the progess is due to these legislations and regulations you are referring to?

    Again, explain to me all these rich people who were allowed to infringe on peoples rights?

    I see it differently, but maybe I'm getting to caught up in semantics. I see businesses as serving very small sections of the public good. Essentially, they're liable to their customers and no one else (unless they're harming others). In the aggregate, there are many businesses, so all of them are serving somebody and therefore most people get served.

    Often times laws are justified not so much for making sure businesses don't harm people, but rather to have power and control over businesses in order to be able to tell them what to do. Legislation is rarely used to promote the public good, instead it's mainly used to promote special interest. Businesses use legislation to harm other businesses. Businesses use legislation to harm customers. Customers use legislation to harm businesses. Workers use legislation to harm businesses. Workers use legilsation to harm customers. Politicians and other "public servants" use legislation to harm businesses, workers, and customers.

    You claim I am displaying ignorance about history. Well, I would say you're displaying ignorance about economics.

    Yeah, they have to be restricted for commonly owned land because they will over use. This is a result of a lack of property rights. Ever heard of the tragedy of the commons? However, if someone actually owned some of these things, then many of the problems would be taken care of for the same reasons I've been mentioning throughout this post (they'd have an incentive to not over use).

    Zoning regulations hurt citizens, especially the poor. Zoning regulations make it very expensive to build housing in many areas. Thomas Sowell discusses how these regulations are responsible for making homes in many California cities highly expensive to the point that low-income people must live far away from their work and commute numerous hours every day.
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  20. Feb 13, 2008 #19
    I read this today, and thought it was somewhat related to the discussion.


  21. Feb 13, 2008 #20
    I'll leave establishing a sense of proportion up to you if that's something you want to do. You asserted that businesses don't kill or plunder and I demonstrated that to be manifestly false.

    No, actually. You were arguing that companies are not “supposed to be considering society as a whole in their decision making process”.

    Fine, maybe there's some sort of magic econo-force powered by the profit fairies that makes sure that commercial and industrial activity always helps people instead of harming them. It doesn't matter.

    Whether it's in their nature or not it is the duty of companies to promote the public good. They do not have license to simply let rip with their commercial activities because there's some invisible hand protecting everyone, they must in every decision take this duty into account.

    If you get into history a little bit you'll realize that for most of human history only the wealthiest people in society have been political leaders of any sort. Wealthy individuals and groups have always dominated less wealthy groups and individuals and before the last couple hundred years the only way that state of affairs has changed is through violence.

    Again I'm going to leave it up to you to read up on history if you need some examples of wealthy people or businesses completely screwing people over.
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