Smartness & the Anthropocene

Reading Group: Economics' Ecological Imagination

Given that economics and ecology share a very distinct prefix, it is somewhat surprising that we often conceive of the two fields as describing, even engendering, antagonistic forces. Indeed, it appears that they imagine the “house” their shared etymological origin refers to very differently: in ecology, this house (earth) is composed of living organisms that work according to their own logic, whereas economics thinks of a construct that is entirely social, made by humans for humans, and in which we encounter nature mostly as exogenous occurrences. However, a closer look at the language of economics reveals that the field is permeated by images of processes found in nature—after all, “growth” is the primary goal of a large body of economic theory. This reading group aims at investigating how economics thinks about nature, and how what could tentatively be termed an ‘ecological imaginary’ has entered and shaped the discipline.

Possible texts and topics include:

  • Phillip Mirowski—"More Heat than Light"
  • Milton Friedman—“The Methodology of Positive Economics”
  • Robert Ayres—"On the life cycle metaphor: where ecology and economics diverge"
  • Water and Macroeconomics: Irving Fisher’s hydraulic price machine, William Phillips’ MONIAC (an analogue computer that used liquids to emulate Britain’s economy)
  • Degrowth Economics

The first meeting will be arranged to take place in the week of January 30. To find a time that suits as many participants as possible, please email Carolin Benack atcarolin.benack@duke.edu by Monday, January 23 if you’re interested in joining the reading group.