Salmon Economics (and other lessons)

Twenty-Third Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures October 2003, Stockbridge, MA

Andrew Kimbrell, October 2003

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Summary :

As with labor, government has tried to restrict the free-market commodification of the earth in order to avoid the collapse of the capitalist system, in this instance from ecological catastrophe. It became evident by the dawn of the twentieth century that the rapacious destruction of land and resources by the unrestricted free market was not sustainable. The Reform Movement, headed by such leaders as Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, began to foster laws and policies designed to buffer nature from the market. Over the next decades zoning laws, creation of protected parks and wilderness areas, and numerous other legislative controls were implemented in an attempt to put some U.S. land off limits to the market. Additionally, in the early 1970s a series of statutes was enacted in the United States that sought to protect our water, air, and land from industrial pollution. Most European countries and now the European Union have passed similar and at times more comprehensive laws.

As we consider the all too familiar list of global environmental problems—global warming, ozone depletion, water scarcity, topsoil loss, oil depletion, species extinction, deforestation—we are beginning to see the inadequacy of those protections and are being forced to assess the full legacy of treating nature as a commodity, a legacy that is threatening the very survival of a viable planet. As a result, international protocols and treaties are urgently being sought to once again attempt to protect the market system from the consequences of its contradictions.