on July 3, 2002
Daly, more than any other economist or writer on sustainability, makes clear the fallacies of traditional free-market thinking. The book illustrates very clearly why economic growth cannot be sustainable in a finite world. (Although he doesnt use the metaphor -- I'll borrow it from Edward Abbey -- the same logic explains why "sustainable" cell growth in humans is called "cancer.") Daly argues that traditional economic theory is mainly useful in only one of the three core areas of economy (the optimal price and allocation of scarce resources) and does not address in any meaningful way two other issues -- the distribution of resources and determining the overall scale of the economy that can be sustained within the biosphere. Particularly interesting is the essay on economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, which describes all of the tenets of traditional economic theory that become untenable merely when one accepts the fact that the second law of thermodynamics (the law on increasing entropy) must apply to an economy just as it applies to the biological and physical world.
What makes Daly effective as a writer is the calm humility of his intellect. Economics has practically become a religion in our society (witness the dogmatic reviews of political/economic books on this site). However, unlike other economists, who get shrill and polemical when their dogma is challenged, Daly is willing to consider possible holes in his arguments, opponents' counterarguments, and unknowns. Of course, he shreds most counterarguments in his calm, polite way, but after reading other economists the openness is refreshing.
My one complaint is the disjointed nature of the book. Although certain themes run throughout each of the seven sections, some of the pieces were originally written as separate essays, and it shows. However, given the clarity of the writing (even on very technical subjects such as Soddy's views on the nature of money) that is ultimately forgivable.
on July 10, 2001
Herman Daly continues to consolidate and sharpen the insights first expressed (with coauthor Cobb) in "For the Common Good." Here, with 6 years of experience with the World Bank under his belt, Daly is uniquely able to address the short-sightedness of current economic thought and flesh out its implications for all of us. Although quite technical for the average reader, this book says all that you would ever need to know about why the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank are rapidly pushing the "inevitable" global economy and all of humanity toward an even more inevitable ecological meltdown. But more importantly, Daly calmly details the exact policy changes that will be required to reverse course. They're not complex -- they simply require a level of political will and cultural sobriety not seen in the United States since...well, since the country was founded. From my perspective, this book is a _must_read_, even more so than the equally outstanding "For the Common Good."
on January 2, 2000
Herman Daly has been warning his readers of the dangers of unrestrained growth longer than some of them have been alive! He is a tireless, thoughtful, and informed proponent of sustainable economic policy who has enjoyed more success than most growth heretics, as attested by his six years at the World Bank. But, like other heretics - whether of growth or of other dogmas - his teachings are largely ignored or ridiculed by the pharisees of proper thought. No doubt his professional status has been diminished by the stand he has taken. Felicitously, we don't burn heretics at the stake these days for undermining archaic beliefs purblindly held or the anti-growth movement might have its first martyr.
In "Beyond Growth" Daly puts forth his beliefs in a concise and readable way. I found the first few chapters a bit heavy on economic theory and terminology (Daly is after all an economist first and foremost), but once that necessary underpinning has been laid Daly goes on to discuss growth-related topics (population, international trade, ethics) in terms more familiar to the layman, expressed in a thought-provoking and even moving way. Daly not only knows, he cares. The final chapter of the book, in which he attempts to meld the concept of stewardship common to most religions with principles of sustainable development, suggests Daly's concern for growth-addicted humanity springs from a religious upbringing. If he has forsaken some of the dogmatic teachings of his youth, he has retained the kernel of the faith, a devotion to Truth and the well-being of his fellow man, to which he adheres as firmly as did his Renaissance predecessor in heresy. Such adhesion brought Bruno martyrdom at the stake; for Daly it is more likley to bring ultimate recognition as one of the most forward-thinking intellectuals of his time.
on June 30, 2004
Don't miss reading this book! When I read conventional economics, I constantly find myself asking why most economists use such ridiculous assumptions. Herman Daly's book tells why, and gives a start of what to do about it. Mr. Daly's work convinced me that economics will soon be undergoing a revolution like that of physics in the time of Einstein. As a patent attorney with a biochemistry degree, I can tell you that Mr. Daly is right on the money when he discusses the importance to humanity's future of discarding GNP as an economic measure. If you didn't realize before that understanding entropy is essential to economics, Mr. Daly will tell you. There is plenty of other great stuff here, too.
I don't agree with all of Mr. Daly's points. One of his major themes is that being truly concerned about the environment and the future of humanity requires reverence for the Earth as God's creation. Since I am an atheist, and I am very concerned about the environment and the future of humanity, I find this viewpoint a little hard to swallow. Don't let that stop you from reading this great book, though.
on November 7, 2008
Daly's work is a necessary and candid re-evaluation of both (neo)classical economics, and current notions of 'sustainable development.' His open assessment of mainstream science's slightly disingenuous call for moral environmentalism is especially thought-provoking, and appreciated. The distinction he draws between 'growth' and 'development' is key, and seems worthy of further exposure in the public sphere.