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Politics in a full world

Politics in a full world

When Scientific American published Herman Daly’s “Economics in a Full World” in September 2005, few people knew what lay ahead: oil climbing to $147 a barrel, the relentless rise in global temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions, the food riots of 2008 sparked by rising food prices, the economic crash that followed, and the development of an increasingly yawning gap between the rich and everyone else in subsequent years. For the vast majority of people on the planet, growth effectively stopped in 2008. Their incomes have essentially flatlined or declined.

Daly’s thesis seems more relevant than ever as government policymakers puzzle over lackluster global economic growth despite unprecedented government spending (and debt) and ground-hugging interest rates in the seven years since the crash. Maybe we have reached the point, as Daly would argue, when economic growth is uneconomic, when the costs outweigh the benefits (except, of course, for a very narrow strata of people at the top who get to put the costs on everyone else).

If we are moving toward a low-growth or even no-growth world because growth is becoming much more difficult and problematic, then Daly’s outline of a new economics will need a companion outline: politics in a full world. I have a preliminary candidate for that outline: Bruno Latour’s The Politics of Nature. Daly’s steady-state economics always implied a revolution in governance without being explicit about it.

Latour never mentions Daly and may never have read him. But Latour clearly understands that the natural world–which politics has always held at arm’s length while nevertheless dealing daily with nature’s demands–must now explicitly invite that natural world to the bargaining table.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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