Economics in a healthy ecosystem

Transformative Ecological Economics
Forfatter: Ove Jakobsen
Forlag: Routledge (UK)
An economy where production, consumption and recycling are linked to a balanced "food chain" is the solution to the ecological crisis, according to economist Ove Jakobsen.


There are those who are still chirping, but most now acknowledge that our way of life has brought us to the edge of a cliff where the threat of global crises is real and serious. For the first time in the history of the globe, one species has managed to shake off the living conditions of its own existence. In the years to come, an all-encompassing discussion will be about how we solve the problems we ourselves have created. Is it sufficient to make changes within the context of modern society, or must we think radically differently?

I am among those who are open to the need for a green transformation of social life. Nevertheless, I have regarded the ecological economy with some skepticism. There is a difference between being in a critical position and promoting idealistic visions of a deep ecological turn, radically different from the reality we live in. This attitude was the basis when I read economics professor Ove Jakobsens Transformative Ecological Economics – yet the book became an interesting and educational encounter with radical, at times utopian, yet realistic thoughts.

There is a distinction between green and ecological economics: The first is an extension of the existing; the latter sees a systemic crisis that requires fundamental changes to how we live.

Reductionism. Let's start with the second part of the book, where we are presented to 32 different thinkers and their respective projects. The production ranges from philosophical and scientific sources of inspiration, through the importance of interdisciplinarity and the view of economics as a moral science, to institutional arrangements and concrete solutions. When a book sweeps over such a wide landscape, it is clear that each presentation only provides a tiny bit of flavor. Jakobsen stays away from the commentator role, and presents each perspective on its own premise, which is perceived as a liberating invitation to think for itself. I read the book in the same way as one moves at a film festival: from one point to the next, constantly given new angles on a holistic framework, a mosaic of impressions and ideas that just by being composed and often contradictory, contribute to deeper understanding.

An important part of Jakobsen's mosaic is the awareness of how the modern society is permeated by a mechanical, instrumental and reductionist mindset – where the focus is on the individual parts and what we can do about them. An organic way of thinking is promoted, where nature, society and the economy are linked together in a dynamic whole. Such a change of mentality had an impact on our political thinking and on how we organize society. For example, it had made us more aware of the value of a circular economy, where production, distribution, consumption and recycling are linked in much closer cycles than today. This also makes the point of local currencies more understandable. It is not about leaving global or national solutions, but about contributing to schemes that stimulate local, short-lived economic cycles.

Organic understanding. The first and third parts of the book have a completely different form. The first presents three analytical distinctions that shape Jacobsen's text as a whole. The importance of moving from a mechanical to an organic understanding of reality is fundamental: Rather than viewing the world as a multitude of individual objects, we should emphasize how everything is interconnected through dynamic relationships characterized by continuous change. This leads to an analytical distinction between ideology (which is considered to be rooted in the preservation of the existing) and utopi (the source of creating alternative stories about a different future). Finally, a distinction is drawn between green and ecological economics. The green economy is seen as an extension of the existing order, aimed at solving environmental problems through reforms. The ecological economy, on the other hand, regards the problems as an expression of a systemic crisis, which can only be solved through fundamental changes in how we live.

Part one creates an interpretive context for what we read in part two, the 32 approaches I started with. In the third part, the various elements are then connected to a sketch of one transformative ecological economy, a utopia derived through a narrative rooted in the categories worldview, economic system, business practices og human image. In my encounter with this mindset, my critical sense is brought back to life – but there is no doubt that the book succeeds in showing the opportunity to think differently.

Complex reality. Jakobsen's exciting text was difficult to read without the relief of my own book From everlasting growth to green politics (2016). As I draw a historical-political map of a diverse landscape, Jakobsen occupies a much clearer position as he points out the direction for an alternative social development. And where my anchoring point is politics, from which I cautiously write in the direction of the economy, Jakobsen's starting point is the opposite: His views are based on the economy and the opportunity to transform it, while the diverse and changeable game of politics and ideology is not visible.

It is in this that I find my most important critical commentary on the book: the point of opposition, the existing order, is at times presented for one-dimensional and caricature. Where my book illustrates a modern society in the intersection of a variety of political discourses, Jakobsen writes about ideologyen in singular – understood as a symbiosis of a mechanical worldview, instrumental science and economic liberalism. This is undoubtedly important and important. But – if we accept that reality is more complex and complex than its caricature, we are led in the direction of a question Jakobsen does not open to: Is it a given that we must think in entirely new paths to create a sustainable way of life? Could it be that liberal, mechanically based strategies could provide well-functioning solutions, too?

It is not about leaving global or national solutions, but about contributing to schemes that stimulate local, short-lived economic cycles.

Eco ideology. Ove Jakobsen is reasonably categorical when he claims that the established mechanisms cannot show the way to the society we must create. This gives the production an either-or feel. A possible alternative is to assume that we are faced with complex questions without unambiguous answers. Rather than speaking in absolute terms, we should be open to the fact that many solutions will be created in the spaces between the existing and the existing alternatives. We should recognize that ecologism is also an ideology, which is part of the struggles and interactions with other ideologies – where our choices are ultimately mostly about values, forms of understanding and what we want with the development of society. This point can be elaborated on by Ove Jakobsen's transformative, economic-ecological utopia sharpening itself towards more politically based perspectives.

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