From Malthus to Sustainable Growth

Keyfitz, N. (1991). From Malthus to Sustainable Growth. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-91-023

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Running parallel to the economic theory of development, from Adam Smith to the present, has been expression of concern, what may be called an ecological preoccupation, about the capacity of the planet to support the increasing human population and to withstand the operations humans were carrying out on it. For Malthus this focussed especially on limits to food supplies, for his successors on limits of other raw materials, most recently on the sensitive dynamics of the planet.

At the start there was no problem of communication between the economic and the ecological side; the same scholars wrote on both and they could be consistent with themselves. But in the past two or three decades the two sides have diverged. It would be too much to say that a debate is going on, for a debate requires that each side answer the points raised by the other, and that does not seem to be happening. How can the conditions for debate be established, and the public understanding and democratic decision making advantages of a debate be secured.

The simple answer is for each of economists and biologists to acknowledge the results of the other in the field of its expertise, and to build its theory around these. That may ultimately lead to an overall consensus formula for sustainable development. But with the amount of knowledge now at hand and for a considerable time in the future the best we can hope for is incremental steps towards sustainability that are at least in the right direction. Some ten such steps are suggested.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: World Population (POP)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:01
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:14

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