No utopian but a truly worldly philosopher .pdf


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No utopian but a truly worldly philosopher - FT.com

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October 22, 2011 4:29 am

No utopian but a truly worldly philosopher
From Profs Giorgos Kallis and Joan Martinez-Alier.
Sir, Christopher Caldwell, in “Décroissance: how the French counter
capitalism” (October 15), refers correctly to Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen as an
intellectual hero of the degrowth (décroissance) movement, but qualifies him
wrongly as a “utopian thinker”. Far from a utopian, Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994)
was a distinguished fellow of the American Economic Association and a professor of
economics at Vanderbilt, holding a PhD in statistics from the Sorbonne and a
degree in mathematics from his native Bucharest. As a Rockefeller scholar at
Harvard he worked closely with notable economists Joseph Schumpeter and
Wassily Leontief. Paul Samuelson called him a “scholar’s scholar, an economist’s
economist”.
A truly “worldly philosopher”, Georgescu-Roegen in The Entropy Law and the
Economic Process (Harvard University Press, 1971) argued that economic growth
increases entropy; useful energy is dissipated, it cannot be recycled. He predicted
that the economy simply cannot continue to grow forever no matter how much
technology advances. Once fossil-fuel stocks are depleted, a simpler living out of
renewable, flow resources will be inevitable, and the descent had better be a smooth
rather than a catastrophic one.
For his disciples in the community of ecological economics, the crisis came as no
surprise: energy and food prices knocked the economy down. It is easy for the
financial system to increase private or public debts and to confuse this expansion of
credit for the creation of real wealth. But the real economy of energy and materials
cannot be forced to grow at the compound interest rate necessary to pay off debts.
It is a hopeful sign that the degrowth movement is grounding its view of the
economy on the thermodynamic analysis of Georgescu-Roegen. Utopian is to think
that endless growth is possible in a finite planet.
Giorgos Kallis and Joan Martinez-Alier, ICTA, Universidad Autonoma
de Barcelona, Spain

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03.11.2011

No utopian but a truly worldly philosopher - FT.com

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03.11.2011


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