The Riches of the Ocean for Humankind: Rethinking Value in Economics and Development

7. Sustainable Development: At the Crossroads between Economics & Ecology

7.1. The Basic Problem for Development
The basic problem that development has to tackle is scarce resources. Such resources are of a material, human, technological, and cultural nature. It is on the very notion of scarcity that economic science was founded more than 200 years ago. It was then that Adam Smith wrote his book on the wealth of nations as a strategy to overcome the limitations to development due to scarce resources.

The Industrial Revolution successfully concentrated for over two centuries on the possibilities of increasing the manufacturing sectors to reduce scarcity of products. The key issue has been the mobilization and improvement of all available resources to make them more abundant and apt to produce wealth. One cannot deny the great overall successes of the Industrial Revolution, thanks to which life expectancy of human beings has increased at an unprecedented pace, mainly in the industrialized countries, but also, very largely, in the less industrialized ones.

7.2. The Political Aspect of the Industrial Revolution: A New Basis for Legitimacy, Credibility, and Governability
For the last two centuries, the legitimacy and the credibility of governments have centred around the methods and ideas proposed concerning the building and development of the “wealth of nations” through the development of the manufacturing systems, that is, the political management of the industrial revolution. The process of industrialization has been the key reference for building political consensus. The long-lasting competition between a liberal and a Marxist system has finally come to an end by the failure of Marxist methods to efficiently control and stimulate this process. Such a failure has resulted in a total loss of the political consensus and has therefore given way to political disaggregation. Even if the liberal system has shown many shortcomings and has experienced very great crises during the last two centuries, both political and economic, it has finally proved to be the least imperfect of the systems and the most efficient one, in the era of the Industrial Revolution.

7.3. The Ecological Movement and the Crisis in the Traditional Notion of the Wealth of Nations: In Quest of Sustainable Development
The Industrial Revolution, after its great successes in developing the wealth of nations, has come to a point at which there is a growing doubt in its capability of pursuing the goal of developing the wealth of nations without some very strong and in-depth adaptations. The ecological and environmental movements in the world are critical of the point that the industrialization process is in fact the right way to improve welfare and well-being of humanity in present conditions. Hence, the efforts of all those involved in promoting economic activity to integrate as far as possible the ecological and environmental requirements not only as an economic opportunity, but above all to reintegrate the very reference upon which the political consensus has been built in the past.

The notion of “sustainable development” refers precisely to the major problem of development that was at the very core of preoccupations of the pioneers of industrialization: the mobilization and development of scarce resources. The word “sustainable” refers essen­tially to the fact that the industrialization process, in certain cases, instead of increasing wealth tends to produce scarcity of resources. This happens in particular when those resources that were once available in an unlimited quantity (e.g., air, water, land) are themselves submitted to a process of progressive increase of scarcity. In this case, the entry of resources into the market-priced system that were once not taken into account because they were available in an unlimited quantity, is indicative of a growing level of scarcity and therefore of poverty.

The question of “sustainable development” has to do finally with the necessity to cope with the danger of producing scarcity, making resources more and more rare. A particular connotation of this phenomenon is its tendency to be of medium, long, and very long term. This contrasts in particular with an industrial economic process that is strongly conditioned by the market operations in the short term. Sustainability means in the end that resource development has to be mastered simultaneously in the short and long term, and this implies also concentrating on the issue of uncertainty.

8. Acting for Sustainable Development
We acknowledge the inadequacy of the ancient model to develop the wealth of nations and the recognition that both economics and ecology are the best possible way of managing world and human resources to achieve a better wealth of nations. The rebuilding of economics and of a credible strategy for increasing the wealth and well-being of nations is today at the center of the problem of providing a sound basis for the legitimacy and credibility of public institutions and governments. If the dichotomy between traditional economic goals and new ecological and environmental requirements for sustainable development will not credibly combine, the political consensus and the legitimacy of governments at the local, national, and international levels will have a tendency to produce on the new liberalizing world disaggregation effects that could be as extensive as those witnessed in former Marxist countries.

Hence, the strategic priority consists of reviewing the meaning of the wealth of nations today and in finding the best economic methods to promote it in a credible and adequate way, with a vision aimed at strengthening the credibility and the legitimacy of the democratic economic systems. In terms of sustainable development, it means to find a reasonable compromise between the short and the long term to reduce scarcity now and in the future, avoiding the undermining of the patrimony composed by earth resources.

9. The Way to Sustainability
We recognize the fact that a modern industrial economy is essentially a service-based one and that the notion of value has shifted from the production of goods to the production of performances. Service activities of all sorts have today become dominant in every “manufacturing” sector. Services are about performances measured by results expressed in terms of level of health, wealth, well-being, happiness, and pleasure, et cetera. These levels of well-being do not depend only on the quantities of goods available, but on the way in which they are used and they affect the quality of life of human beings in time. This is what is meant by “performance,” which also must integrate the cost of depleting resources and the management of waste (a service activity) in the long term. From this point of view, the integration of wisdom from two centuries of economic thinking and the legitimate requirements of the ecological and environmental needs and demands should naturally find their synthesis in a new notion of value. This is a notion of value where the basis for both economy and ecology is recognized as being the same; the best possible utilization and maintenance of human and natural resources for the well-being and for the wealth of nations. A clear strategy for sustainable development depends largely on the vision generated by the combination of economic and ecological views attacking together the problems of scarcity.

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