Last summer a most impressive group of economics and ecologists (Kenneth Arrow, Partha Dasgupta, Lawrence Goulder, Gretchen Daily, Paul Ehrlich,Geoffrey Heal, Simon Levin, Karl-Goran Maler, Stephen Schneider, David Starrett and Brian Walker) published a paper in one of the American Economic Association's journals, the Journal of Economic Perspectives, titled "Are we consuming too much?" The answer must be yes, !, what with articles in newspapers and magazines focusing on our lack of savings, how we guzzle gas, overfish, and deforest. Well these authors conclude that the answer is not necessarily yes. (The answer is not necessarily no either but that is a longer story.)
They successfully merged two important criteria for judging whether society is on the correct development path. The one favored by the economists, maximize present discounted value, pursues economic efficiency. The other favored by the ecologists, sustainability, seeks to make sure that future generations are at least no worse off as the present generation. They conclude that rich countries are mostly doing OK when pursuing both goals. The problem is poor countries who neither consume enough for decent living standards nor save enough, to fund investment, that leads to increased living standards in the future. The basic problem is that they are poor.
I bring this paper up because Jon Christenson at the Uneasy Chair has written a piece, published this summer in Conservation in Practice, that goes behind the scenes and tells how this group of economists and ecologists got together and were able to communicate with each other. It's an interesting read.