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The Other Road to Serfdom and the Path to Sustainable Democracy

Eric Zencey

Publication Year: 2012

Eric Zencey’s frontal assault on the “infinite planet” foundations of neoconservative political thought Our planet is finite. Our political and economic systems were designed for an infinite planet. These difficult truths anchor the perceptive analysis offered in The Other Road to Serfdom and the Path to Sustainable Democracy. With wit, energy, and a lucid prose style, Eric Zencey identifies the key elements of “infinite planet” thinking that underlie our economics and our politics—and shows how they must change. Zencey’s title evokes F. A. Hayek, who argued that any attempt to set overall limits to free markets—any attempt at centralized planning—is “the road to serfdom.” But Hayek’s argument works only if the planet is infinite. If Hayek is right that planning and democracy are irreducibly in conflict, Zencey argues, then on a finite planet, “free markets operated on infinite planet principles are just the other road to serfdom.” The alternative is ecological economics, an emergent field that accepts limits to what humans can accomplish economically on a finite planet. Zencey explains this new school of thought and applies it to current political and economic concerns: the financial collapse, terrorism, population growth, hunger, the energy and oil industry’s social control, and the deeply rooted dissatisfactions felt by conservative “values” voters who have been encouraged to see smaller government and freer markets as the universal antidote. What emerges is a coherent vision, a progressive and hopeful alternative to neoconservative economic and political theory—a foundation for an economy that meets the needs of the 99% and just might help save civilization from ecological and political collapse.

Published by: University Press of New England

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Introduction: The Weather on Factory Planet

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pp. ix-xxix

In the summer of 2010 an unprecedented heat wave in Russia lasted two months, baking Moscow, drying up peat bogs and forests in the region, and leading to fires that blanketed the city with acrid, suffocating smoke. Thousands died. Also that summer a monsoon in Pakistan dumped half the usual annual rainfall—ten inches—in one night; ...

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The Other Road to Serfdom

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pp. 1-18

A hundred and fifty years ago, in a remarkable chapter in his Principles of Political Economy, John Stuart Mill looked ahead to the sort of world we’d have if human population and economic activity continued growing at the rates he was seeing in 1848. He did this in order to argue against the idea that more is always better, but ...

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Friedrich Hayek, Socialist, and His Fallacy of the Excluded Middle

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pp. 19-31

Contrary to the perception of many conservatives who hold Hayek in high esteem, he did not think that the establishment of a welfare state was incompatible with the operation of a freemarket system, or that social insurance and a safety net would destroy democracy. Perhaps in an effort to co-opt the popularity ...

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What "Sustainability" Is

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pp. 32-41

Even some enthusiastic supporters of sustainability have begun to shun use of the term because it has grown “buzzy,” has become a term that signals not careful thought but the absence of thought. You find just about any activity described as “sustainable.” The word lends a gloss of moral imperative, a sense of inevitability, the cachet ...

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Oil, Economic Theory, and the Moral Culpability of a Discipline

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pp. 42-54

... It isn’t pleasant facing difficult truths, and our tendency to avoid them is made all the easier when authoritative voices tell us that the unpleasant truths we want to avoid are, in fact, not true at all—that we only think they’re true because bad and devious people have been lying to us. This describes the current wrangle in America ...

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The Economics Textbook that Just Might Save Civilization

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pp. 55-71

In 2004, the same year that Frank and Bernanke published the second edition of their Principles of Economics, Herman Daly and Joshua Farley published the first edition of a dramatically different introductory economics textbook: Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications. Ecological economics is an emergent school of economic ...

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Getting Over GDP

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pp. 72-95

As currently organized, our economy creates wealth by drawing down natural and social capital, a process that can’t go on forever. One positive result of an economic slowdown is that it slows this rate of ecological and social degradation, giving our system a little more time and breathing room to make the transition we need to make from our infinite-planet ways. ...

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Industrial Civilization as a Pyramid Scheme

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pp. 96-102

If I said to you, “Give me a thousand bucks today, and in forty-five days I’ll give you fifteen hundred bucks,” you’d think I was stupid or crooked or both. That kind of interest rate works out to a phenomenal 2,466 percent per year, and it’s what Carlo Ponzi offered investors in Boston in 1920. ...

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The Financial Crisis is the Environmental Crisis

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pp. 103-117

Standard, neoclassical economic theory offers several explanations of the origin of the 2008 financial crisis that led to our collective slide into the Great Recession, and these explanations are wrong. They’re wrong because they’re incomplete, and that means that implementing changes in the economy based on them—even deep-reaching, ...

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The Battle over the Environmental Kuznets Curve

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pp. 118-135

On November 13, 2005, an accident at a petrochemical plant in Jilin Province, north central China, sent a large but unknown quantity of benzene and nitrobenzene into the Songhua River. Downstream, the capital of neighboring Heilongjiang Province draws its drinking water from the river. Authorities there didn’t ...

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Revisiting "The Bet that Ruined the World"

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pp. 136-161

In 1980, Science magazine published an essay by an economist named Julian Simon titled “Resources, Population, Environment: An Oversupply of False Bad News.” Its first line struck squarely at what its author saw as the prevailing but mistaken idea that the world faces an increasingly serious population problem: “False bad news about ...

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Freakonomist Cheap Shots Jane Fonda

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pp. 162-174

You don’t often see academic economists blaming liberal movie stars for climate change, but that’s what University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt did in one of his syndicated columns, coauthored with journalist Stephen J. Dubner. (Their first book, the best-selling ...

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Got Terrorism? Blame Economists

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pp. 175-193

Let’s do a little Freakonomics analysis of our own. Obviously economists aren’t mailing packages filled with explosives, aren’t offering training and assistance to hate-filled zealots meeting in camps deep in Afghanistan, aren’t sending support checks to al-Qaeda (or if they are, that’s got nothing to ...

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Ending the Culture War

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pp. 194-207

Remember the culture wars? The term has lost currency, but the thing it labeled, a deep division in the American polity, is definitely still with us. And the phenomenon is global: world economic integration has brought increased contact and conflict between national and supranational cultures and, with it, fundamental ...

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On the Oklahoma Abortion Laws, SUVs, and Climate Justice

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pp. 208-224

In 2008 and 2009, the Republican-controlled state legislature of Oklahoma passed two of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. The laws were quickly challenged in state courts, where they were found unconstitutional for a technical flaw: each had embodied several distinct anti-choice measures and had thereby violated ...

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What Green Might Bring

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pp. 225-242

years ago, in an essay titled “Ecology and Guilt,” I compared the teachings of ecology to the moral codes offered by an especially rigorous and austere religion. Back then, it seemed to me that one reason the environmental movement wasn’t making as much progress as it might was because ecological understanding ...

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pp. 243

The author wishes to express his deep appreciation to the Bogliasco Foundation, whose generous provision of a fellowship month at their Ligurian Study Center contributed enormously to the writing of this book. Thanks are also due to friends, too numerous to mention, whose interest in and enthusiasm for these topics helped sustain my own. My students and colleagues at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, in the architecture ...


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pp. 245-286


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pp. 287-299

E-ISBN-13: 9781611683677
E-ISBN-10: 161168367X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584659617
Print-ISBN-10: 1584659610

Page Count: 340
Publication Year: 2012