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Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them All Paperback – August 1, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Economic growth is as American as apple pie and as popular as pizza. It has also, according to conservation biologist Czech, reached its limits and had led to "economic bloat," doing irreversible harm to the environment and literally destroying the future for the next generations. The main culprits here are mainstream, "neoclassical" economists (and also the political and economic elite supporting them) who through arcane theorization insist there are no limits to growth. Czech does a marvelous job of skewering the assumptions behind this notion and of introducing and synthesizing the perspectives of the opposing field, "environmental economics," which offers in the place of unbridled growth a "steady state" economy of low production and consumption and stable population. Moving through sometimes difficult ideas like "substitutability," "trophic levels" and "carrying capacity," Czech is always clear but never condescending, serious but not without humor. Agree with him or not, he is eminently clear. Yet it all falls apart when he discusses what might be done. Given the severity of the ecological crisis Czech finds us in, his recommendation that public opinion should shame conspicuous consumers among the rich into changing their ways is both vague and tepid. Missing are analyses of public policy options and considerations of political strategies that are as focused and nuanced as his critiques. Too bad, for when he's on his gameAin the first part of the bookAhe's as good at popularizing economics as Carl Sagan was science. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Czech is passionate about his subject, and achieves his aims of persuading the reader to contemplate an alternative economic model."--"Connect Magazine

"[Czech] breaks down complex concepts . . . into easy-to-understand and informative terms."--"The Compendium Newsletter"
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Revised ed. edition (August 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520225147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520225145
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,857,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
It is a curiosity of modern economic thought that some people--Brian Czech identifies them as "neoclassical" economists, led in part by the late Julian Simon--think there is no end to economic growth. When I first became aware of this idea some years ago I dismissed it out of hand along with what I saw as a couple of similar delusions, that of perpetual population growth and an ever-increasing agricultural yield. But maybe the seemingly impossible is possible after all!

To get right to the heart of the matter--which Czech does after noting that economic growth is a national goal; that is, a political and (one might say) an emotional goal somewhat in the manner of "manifest destiny" from the nineteenth century--we need to ask why Simon (and other respected economists) think that such a fantastic thing as perpetual economic growth is possible.

First they start with "substitutability," the idea that when we run short of some resource another will be developed or otherwise come along to take the place of the now scare resource. Thus plastic replaces wood; coal will replace oil, wind power and mirrors in space will replace coal, and farmed fish will take the place of the wild variety. Second, there is the notion that the efficiency of engines and other technological developments will increase endlessly. And third, there is the relatively new idea of "human capital," a kind of fuzzy--one is tempted to say mystical--belief that human intelligence, education and knowledge will just keep right on growing and growing and growing, getting more and more from less and less.

Perhaps these guys never heard of entropy or diminishing returns--or they think that such things are so far in the future that they needn't be mentioned.
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Format: Hardcover
Czech, a wildlife biologist who later did post-graduate work in economics, provides an interesting analysis and critique of the concept of economic growth in the U.S. He challenges the notion that economic growth can continue unabated, as all resources, however abundant at one point, are finite, and all economic activity, down to the most tertiary of service sectors, depends to some extent on production (use, consumption, processing of natural resources). He also quite plausibly refutes an argument often made by economists who support the growth theory that lower prices of raw materials or resources bascially mean an abundance thereof (often it simply means that extraction or labor costs have gone down). Like any good ecologist, he also stresses that market costs of a given economic activity rarely reflect the real cost to things like the potable water supply, air quality, etc. Czech also introduces some interesting new terms to environmental economic parlance, such as economic bloating as a substitute for economic growth, or `liquidating class' to refer to that section of the population that consumes conspicuously and needlessly. Czech calls for a transition to a zero-growth or steady-state economy (hardly a new concept) which does not entail dismantling or even radically changing the current capitalist system. The main problem is that this requires a major attitude change, nothing short of a revolution, in the way people think about the economy, growth and the future (if they do at all). While some of the conclusions about how this can be achieved are questionable, this is generally a very thought-provoking book. Czech does a good job of blending economic theory with his knowledge of the natural sciences, and making it all quite readable and understandable. If you can get past his constant use of the rather annoying rhetorical device about "the grandkids," this is a very worthwhile read.
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Format: Hardcover
There are some very harsh truths in this book, in which a very thoughtful Conservation Biologist takes on the very hard challenge of defining a political and economic model that is survivable.
From his early doctrine of "competitive exclusion" (one species can benefit only at the expense of others) to his methodical and progressive dismantling of economic growth as an unquestioned political goal, of the prevailing economic theories as being totally insane (efficiency does not prevent the depletion of natural capital from a limited earth), to his sensible and moral and provocative outlining of the ecological economics (or the economics of environmental survival), this is a book that teaches and this is a man I would trust to counsel a future President....
This book will appeal to anyone who considers himself or herself a Cultural Creative, and I hope it appeals to the "silent majority" that could yet make a difference in "political economy." Whether we save the Earth for future generations boils down to this: are the citizens of the various nations, the employees of the various corporations, prepared to think for themselves? Are they prepared to join the global grid of free thinkers and cyber-advocates that are finding that the Internet is the lever that will move the world and empower the people once again? The author argues, in a compelling, academically sound and morally encouraging way, that America above all nations finds itself in a new civil war, a war between the "liquidating class" and the "steady state" class.
Besides citizens, this book will provoke and enlighten venture fund managers, political action campaign managers, and leaders of any organization.
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