October 11, 2012

David Suzuki “owes economists an apology”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Environment, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:09

In the Globe and Mail, Mike Moffatt examines Suzuki’s latest attack on the economics profession and finds it extremely unpersuasive:

Popular environmentalist David Suzuki has described conventional economics as a form of brain damage. In a documentary called Surviving Progress, he quotes a fictional economist by saying, “who cares whether you keep the forest — cut it down. Put the money somewhere else. When those forests are gone, put it in fish. When those fish are gone, put it in computers.”

Beyond tarring the economics profession, he displays a perplexing lack of understanding of basic economic concepts. First of all, none of the rules taught in undergraduate economics course advise the owner of a resource to deplete it as quickly as possible. Perhaps he was confused with the Tragedy of the Commons problem, where lack of private ownership causes a resource to be overused.

[. . .]

The idea that economists do not care about externalities is a strange one, given how prominently they are featured in economics textbooks. An externality is, simply put, a spillover effect. It is the unintended costs or benefits from a transaction or decision experienced by third parties (that is, they were external to the decision). It does not mean phenomena that are external to economic modelling or things outside the interest of economists. Since, as Dr. Suzuki points out, the world is full of externalities, the concept is crucial in economic research.

1 Comment

  1. “I won’t go into a long critique, but currently nature and nature’s services – cleansing, filtering water, creating the atmosphere, taking carbon out of the air, putting oxygen back in, preventing erosion, pollinating flowering plants – perform dozens of services to keep the planet happening. But economists call this an ‘externality.’ What that means is ‘We don’t give a shit.'”

    Suzuki concludes the exact opposite of what an “externality” is intended to illustrate, that there are always consequences to any human interaction and that they are usually too numerous and complex to calculate.

    How has this man, who exhibits an almost overwhelming lack of crticial thinking skills, managed to receive any sort of credibility?

    Comment by Rob Huck — October 11, 2012 @ 12:41

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