Andrew Simms again

Oh Lordy, he trots out this Vanuatu nonsense again.

The Happy Planet Index is a measure that assesses the relative efficiency with which natural resources are converted into meaningful human outcomes. It compares peoples\’ ecological footprints with life expectancy and life satisfaction. On average, island nations score better than other states on all three indicators. Within different global regions, islands come top. Malta was ranked highest in the western world, the top five nations in Africa are all islands, and two of the top four are in Asia. Sitting on top of the index was the island of Vanuatu.

You know there\’s something wrong with the metrics you are using to describe "best" when your example of the best human society is a Stone Age one where penis sheaths are the major fashion accessory and they worship the Duke of Endinburgh as a living God.

It\’s the sort of result that would have anyone rational scurrying back to look at their basic assumptions to see where the error is.

Our Simms, the head honcho (on the policy side that is,) at the new economics foundation is, because he does not, therefore not quite rational. He\’s also hopelessly ill informed on his supposed specialist subject, that of economics.

We must look for new models of economy that can operate in dynamic equilibrium with the biosphere on which we depend.

He doesn\’t for example, understand what a dynamic equilibrium is.

A system in dynamic equilibrium is a particular example of a system in a steady state. In a steady state the rate of inputs is equal to the rate of outputs so that the composition of the system is unchanging in time.

We absolutely do not want the economy to be in a state of dynamic equilibrium with the biosphere or the environment. We want exactly the opposite. We want, at a very minimum, to be able to maintain our current outputs while reducing the inputs we take from the biosphere. We would very much prefer in fact that we could increase our outputs (so that those living those Stone Age lifestyles can increase their incomes) while also reducing our inputs from the biosphere. Whatever this situation is called it most certainly ain\’t the dynamic equilibrium being called for.

The method by which we might acheive such a desirable end, that of increasing wealth while reducing environmental impact is of course technology. We\’ve been doing so rather well for some millenia in fact. Moving from slash and burn to settled agriculture increased the amount of output, food, while reducing inputs, land acreage. Moving from the three field to the four field system did the same. Grwoing bananas in Dominica and wheat in England and swapping the results again increased the amount of food available while reducing inputs. Go on and provide your own examples, do….

Island economies like that of Tuvalu developed around sharing and gift giving, helping to create highly co-operative and mutually supportive communities.

In Karl Polanyi\’s classic work The Great Transformation, he presents various types of social and economic organisation on islands as evidence against some of Adam Smith\’s more sweeping assumptions on the central role of markets. Complex forms of "gift exchange", in which people partly meet their needs not through markets mediated with cash, but through the giving and receiving of gifts, operated over vast areas, revealing a system that met people\’s needs in a challenging environment, and bonded society together.

And this is simply cretinism. Smith noted the human propensity to truck and barter. Thus the existence of wide scale barter societies is a refutation of Smith? Jesu Christe, this is idiocy of the mouth breathing kind.

Look, please, can we stop paying this man\’s wages out of our taxes? Pretty please?

He is of course at liberty to howl in the wilderness all he likes but does he really have to do it on our dime?

Andrew Simms is author of Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations

Somewhere, the ghost of Adam Smith is weeping bitter tears. Imagine reading WoN (which we must assume that somone who has written a book about it has) and missing the point so badly.



3 thoughts on “Andrew Simms again”

  1. Sorry Tim you’re wrong. A steady state equilibrium requires only that variables grow at a constant rate not that they don’t grow at all.

    Tim adds: Erm, he’s pointing to a dynamic equilibrium, no? A sub set of steady state?

    And as I point out, that isn’t what we want at all. What we actually want is decoupling, no?

  2. Tim
    Karl Polany has underserved reputation among some social science people. He confused Smith’s truck, barter, and exchange, as ‘truck, barter, and trade’, denied there were any markets before mid-19th century capitalsm (brilliantly refguted by Morris Silver, a distinguished scholar in his ‘Economic Structures of Antiquity, 1995), refused to explain why Rome and Medieval Europe used a coinage (why have coins if there is nowhere to spend them, i.e, in markets!), and quoted surveys by 1930s anthropologists who asked tribes people if the ‘paid’ for things (since exposed as ‘trash science’ by modern anthropologists.

    The Gift, Reciprocity, and sanctions against defectors are now known to be far more complex exchange mechanisms than was appreciated in the 1940s. Polany’s 1944 Great Transformation is unreliable on the universality of ‘exchange’ relations.

    My paper The Pre-History of Bargaininng (Part 1) (2003) refutes Polanyi’s imagination about the antiquity of Smith’s ‘propensity to exchange’.

  3. What’s wrong with penis sheaths as a fashion accessory? As for the happiness index in Vanuatu, being as I’m on my way across the Pacific in less than a week, and it’s on our itinerary, I can check on that…;-)

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