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Environmental Values

Political Perception and Ensemble of Macro Objectives and Measures: The Paradox of the Index for Sustainable Economic Welfare

Rafael Ziegler

Environmental Values 16(2007): 43-60. doi: 10.3197/096327107780160364


Macroeconomic measures and objectives inform and structure political perception in large systems of governance. Herman Daly and John Cobb attack the objective and measure of economic growth in For the Common Good. However, their attack is paradoxical: 1) they are in favour of strong sustainability, but construct with the ISEW an index of weak sustainability, and 2) they describe humans as persons-in-community, but propose an index based on personal consumption. While the ISEW has attracted much attention, the same cannot be said about the person-in-community ontology developed at length and prominently in their work. This essay therefore aims to reconstruct Daly and Cobb's criticism of growth from the person-in-community approach. It defends the ISEW as a debunking index that is motivated by the person-in-community approach and the economy-ecology scale problem, and that also engages in the politics of scale. But this does not mean that the ISEW is also a measure of sustainable economic welfare. Critics expecting this kind of sustainability index are likely to see contradictions, but not the critical role the ISEW can play for democratic accountability. Understanding the latter makes it possible to see the ISEW as a step in the evolution of political perception and action. Accordingly the essay is also intended as a contribution to the understanding of this role in a situation where sustainability indices continue to be calculated, and renewed efforts at the measurement of welfare and happiness are made.

KEYWORDS: ISEW, sustainablity, economic welfare, accountability, scale

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

On Wilfred Beckerman's Critique of Sustainable Development. Herman Daly

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

ISEW. The 'Debunking' Interpretation and the Person-in-Community Paradox: Comment on Rafael Ziegler. Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr.

Value Theory in Ecological Economics: The Contribution of a Political Economy of Wealth. Ali Douai

Lose Less Instead of Win More: The Failure of Decoupling and Perspectives for Competition in a Degrowth Economy. Volker Mauerhofer

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