Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quote of the day: On prediction

It is not that I am somehow against prediction. I think that if forty years of econometrics has revealed anything of value to us it is that you cannot very often make successful predictions of the sort that economists seek. Despite the claims of some econometricians, most results they achieve are pretty useless. Anyone can run millions of regressions with a set of data and report a result that seems to pass all tests—though the fact that millions of regressions are run means that most of the conditions of the tests are violated. But even with such results we find that as soon as new data come along the previously reported results or models typically break-down. What I am saying is that no matter how interested in successful prediction some economists may be, this interest does not make it feasible.

- Tony Lawson, Faculty of Economics at Cambridge University in Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, Volume 2, Issue 1, Summer 2009.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Creation order and hope as sources of ethical response to the crises?

The financial, economic and ecological crises calls for deeper reflection.

Here the abstract of a presentation held in at a Christian Philosophy conference in Amsterdam last week:

The social injustice and ecological damage exacerbated by the financial, economic and ecological crises, as well as a limited ethical response, forces a deep reflection on the transformative potential of Christian ethics on a society largely shaped by the dominant economic culture. The aim of the paper is to explore how the concepts of underlying creation order and eschatological hope for creation may be helpful in the understanding and formulating an ethical response to the financial, economic and ecological crises. A conceptual framework, or an intermediate theory [Shields & Tajalli, 2006], is developed and presented to assist in further research on the topic. An initial review of the literature, as limited to insights from reformational philosophy and eco-theology to the concepts of creation order and eschatology, is presented. The main tensions within broader Christian environmental ethics, as well as with dominant ethical theories in ecological economics are highlighted and discussed. Some implications for the further explanation and development of a Christian ethics for economics and environment are outlined and further research questions are identified.

Keywords: ecological crises, economic crises, ethics, creation order, eschatology, reformational philosophy, eco-theology, ecological economics.

Here the links to full presentation and presentation notes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A New Economics Association

"The World Economics Association (WEA) was launched on May 16, 2011. Impetus comes from the embarrassment that is felt within the economics profession for its dismal showing regarding the Global Financial Collapse, and the absence in this global age of a truly international and inclusive association of economists."

An interesting development. What will characterize this organisation? The manifesto tells a lot:


The World Economics Association (WEA) seeks to increase the relevance, breadth and depth of economic thought. Its key qualities are worldwide membership and governance, and inclusiveness with respect to: (a) the variety of theoretical perspectives; (b) the range of human activities and issues which fall within the broad domain of economics; and (c) the study of the world’s diverse economies.

The Association’s activities will centre on the development, promotion and diffusion of economic research and knowledge and on illuminating their social character. To achieve these aims the Association constitutes itself as a new form of worldwide, democratic, and pluralist organization with the following commitments:

  1. To plurality. The Association will encourage the free exploration of economic reality from any perspective that adds to the sum of our understanding. To this end it advocates plurality of thought, method and philosophy.
  2. To competence. The Association accepts the public perception that competence levels in segments of the economics profession were found wanting by recent events. So as to better serve society in the future, the Association will encourage critical thought, development of new ideas, empirically based rigor and higher standards of scholarship.
  3. To reality and relevance. The Association will promote economics’ engagement with the real world so as to confront, explain, and make tractable economic phenomena. In this context it will also encourage economics to give active consideration to its history, its methodology, its philosophy and its ethics.
  4. To diversity. Both the membership and governance of the Association are specifically constituted in order to embrace all forms of diversity within its membership.
  5. To openness. The Association intends to ensure that all its processes of publication, discussion, meeting and association are transparent and open to input from all its members. To this end the WEA will constitute itself on the internet and use digital technologies wherever possible, including online conferencing and virtual publication.
  6. To outreach. The Association recognizes the valuable contributions to economic thought that are made by researchers and thinkers outside the main body of economics. The WEA will encourage such people to become members and add their insights to our collective learning.
  7. To ethical conduct. The Association will establish a committee to draw up a code of ethics.
  8. To global democracy. The Association will be democratically structured so as not to allow its domination by one country or one continent.

The association believes that these commitments, when held in common by its members, will increase the relevance, breadth and depth of economic thought, so that in the future the economics profession and associated professions will be better equipped to serve humankind"

Plural, diverse, real-world, open, ethical.

Two observations: (1) Many of the same key words as the World Social Forum. (2) Association needs to ensure that plurality does not take the form of 'anything goes'.

For now, I have signed up.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Cretan Commitment

What do economists have to say about the ecological and economic crises?

I had the fortune to visit the beautiful island of Crete during the first week of June with a group of people thinking and debating on the roots of the economic and ecological crises, how to respond to it and what the role of environmental ethics is in this regard.

The organiser asked me to draft a synopsis, a sort of an appeal to fellow economists. Here it is:

1. The current Keynesian economic response to the crises, with a focus on credit and spending does not recognise the deeper structural, ethical and ontological roots of the crises.

2. The ‘Green New Deal’, a response where green economy strategies are launched around the globe that promise jobs, a revitalized economy and at the same time intended to start addressing the ecological crises mostly through the deployment of cleaner technology, is not a sufficient response as it does not recognise the ethical and ontological dimensions of the crises.

3. It is recognised that ecological economics as an emerging interdisciplinary science includes elements of nature, justice and dynamics in its view of reality.

4. Ecological economists are called to challenge the problem of moral choice in the context of intellectual pluralism and the implications of a generalised theory of entropy that guides action-orientated decisions on sustainability.

5. Ecological economists are called to recognise the fragility of their discipline and build up a more resilient and integer theory to assist in transitions towards better sustainability.

6. Economists are called to further develop and build on theories that view individuals and communities as moral agents, and not as agents either naturalistically determined or endowed with unlimited freedom of individuality.

7. Economists are called to reflect on the paradigmatic implications of the idea that human beings are not autonomous, but stand in relation to God, to other human beings and to God’s creation.

8. Economists are called to recognise that theology, the study on the nature of God, as revealed in Word and creation, has a lot to offer on both the organisation/structure, as well as direction of such relationships.

9. Economists are called to recognise that ethics is not the outcome of self-interested choice.

10. Economists are called to reflect on the idea that the source of ethics is not revealed within human reason or in human experience, nor in the laws of nature, but is solely based in revelation by God as read in God’s own creation and in the written Word.

11. Economists are also called to study and respond to the ontological critique that economic science does not account for the wholeness of reality, as evident by its tendency to focus on the outcomes of a deductive, mathematical approach as a basis for real-world interventions.

12. Economists are called to develop approaches, models and tools that do better justice to complex realities, accepting the importance of the particular as well as the broader systematic unity of things.

13. Economists are called to realise that the power of the discipline in contemporary culture stand within a context, comes with an enormous responsibility to act for the improvement of the lot of humanity and of creation.

14. Economists are called, like anyone else, to take serious the idea that we are accountable to the living God, and should strive to come to wise decisions on how to manage the interrelationships amongst humans and the earth that God has created and sustains every day.

Note: This is a draft synopsis as based solely on my own interpretation and do not necessary represent those of others at the symposium

Friday, May 27, 2011

What are your own expectations of a graduate economist?

Someone asked me this question and here is my response:

A graduate economists need to be under the impression of their future role in society, the awe-inspiring diversity and complexity of reality and the opportunities and limitations of the economic sciences to deal with real-world problems. The power that economics has in shaping policies and decisions comes with a lot of responsibility. Economic policies and decisions have deep and profound impacts on the wellbeing of individual people, on society and the earth we live in. A sense of what scientific abstraction means and a proficiency in the tools and models that comes with it is necessary, but not sufficient. The pervasive economic and ecological crises emphasizes again how important it is that graduate economists need to have a well-developed sense of the moral philosophies that guide ethically responsible choices in society and to know how and when to act to the benefit of society and the earth we share.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Preparing for Crete: Ecological crises and ethics

The following commitment to present at a conference on ecology, theology and environmental ethics in June is coming closer...


The question how to approach practical, ‘messy’ problems where problems are not well-defined remains actual. The ongoing financial and economic crisis, as well as an emerging ecological crisis, is an opportunity to reflect on deeper questions on how to approach and inform decisions in the real world.

Reflecting on close to fifteen years of personal experience in the field of environmental economic research and consultancy, coupled with a synopsis of what ecological economic theory has to offer, it will be made clear that solutions are not forthcoming within the fields of economics of ecology itself. Working towards a solution to the financial and ecological crises would include developing an approach that builds on a richer interpretation of the fullness of reality on an ontological level, and on an epistemological level includes at least three specific focus areas namely a systems approach to reality that take account of both nature and culture, an acknowledgment of and internalization of normative-ethical frameworks and the importance of visionary leadership.

These areas will be explored against the backdrop of developments in mainly the economic, but also in the environmental and policy sciences and with a distinct focus on the contributions of the Protestant-Christian tradition to a sustainable management of the earth’s natural and environmental resources.

Key words: economics, ecology, crises, systems theory, ethics, leadership, decision-making, Christianity, theology, ecotheology

I can't wait, but what on earth (no pun) have I let myself in for?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why are cities often ignored when promoting sustainable tourism?

I have often wondered why responsible / sustainable tourism products tend not to be in cities. Surely sustainability in tourism should be as important in cities as in rural areas? Responsible Tourism in Cities will be on the agenda for the first time at the premier South African tourism marketing event Indaba in Durban as a 1-day conference on 6 May 2011 and show-cased in a pavilion for several days with a networking event on 8 May 2011.

Hoping that this will kick-start more awareness of responsibility and sustainability in city tourism, among the many questions to be discussed:

  • What are tourism and sustainability issues unique to cities?

  • Who are the key stakeholders involved in establishing, developing and maintaining responsible tourism in cities?

  • How do 'quality of life' measures for residents correlate with 'best destination' measures for visitors?

Guest-blogger, Gerhard

(Photo: planeta.com)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Risks and opportunities of a waste economy

Municipal waste economies. Are they practical and sustainable?

Here a contribution to the debate as presented at a Waste in Business Seminar a few days ago.

Abstract: Economic Risks and Opportunities of the New Waste Legislation

The new waste legislation in the country is an important driver for change in waste management systems. The question what the economic implications of this new legislation will be has been scarcely addressed though. The City of Cape Town has started with a process of evaluating alternative service delivery mechanisms in waste management. As part of this process, a high-level evaluation of likely economic costs and benefits was done. In this presentation the main results of this economic analysis is presented. It is concluded that waste minimization and diversion from landfill will incur additional economic costs, but that certain mechanisms are more costly than others. A case is made to focus attention on specific larger-scale, lower-cost interventions in partnership with external investors and to spread out the impacts over time.

Full presentation downloadable here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quote of the day: On Scarcity and Oil Prices

"..if demand growth resumes in China and other countries at its previous rate, the date at

which the scarcity rent will start to make an important contribution to the [oil] price, if not here

already, cannot be far away."

JD Hamilton, 2008. Understanding Crude Oil Prices. NBER Working Papers.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rising value of water rationale for restoring ecosystems

The scarcity of and rising value of water in South Africa supports the argument to view the restoration of ecosystems as an economically viable management option.

Here the abstract of a recent economic study on the Agulhas Plain as published by the Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University:

The Agulhas Plain is a low-lying coastal area within the Cape Floristic Region classified as one of the six plant kingdoms of the world. The area is heavily invaded by alien vegetation that infringes upon the sustainable supply of ecosystem goods and services provided by the native fynbos vegetation. Natural capital restoration is expected to recover the supply of ecosystem goods and services, and in particular to increase the amount of water available for consumption. The study conducts cost-benefit analyses to assess whether alien clearing and restoration would add value to the Agulhas Plain. The analyses indicate that the cost of alien clearing and restoration in the area cannot be justified if the additional water released holds no benefit to the Plain. A brief assessment shows that the actual average value of water on the Agulhas Plain, as estimated by other studies, is higher than the economic cost of making the water available through alien clearing and restoration. Thus this would make alien clearing and restoration economically justified.

The full paper can be downloaded here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cape Town Tourism Responsibility and Sustainability

Following up from last week's post: During the 2011 Responsible Tourism Week a contribution from City of Cape Town Director: Tourism Department Nombulelo Mkefa and Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariƫtte du Toit-Helmbold sets out many of the advances towards responsible and sustainable tourism in the city.

A year ago, the City of Cape Town adopted its Responsible Tourism Policy, to achieve sustainability in managing tourism in Cape Town which links with the City's overall strategic direction. However in the same contribution to the debate there is also the following warning -

There is a real danger of complacency, convincing ourselves that we are doing fine and that everything that defines Cape Town as one of the most beautiful places on earth will be here forever. It is a precarious balance between people and the environment and we must become much more proactive and vigilant in terms of responsible tourism and leadership.”

This places us right into the realm of this blog: “a precarious balance between people and the environment” with a huge number of stakeholders in the complex system of Cape Town as a place to live in and a place to visit.

That some are trying to counteract this complacency is visibly confirmed with the active Cape Town participation during the global 2011 Responsible Tourism Week – take a look on the twitter hashtag #rtweek2011 how often the city is mentioned and have a look at a variety of case studies and stories - see the entries dated 14 to 17 February in responsiblecapetown.co.za/blog/

One final thought from my own contribution there: The international tourism market is full of uncertainties, so Cape Town, don't forget our domestic tourists and their needs. And Capetonians, do visit what our own city has to offer, at a slow pace.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Responsible Tourism in Cape Town and the world

Guest-blogger, Gerhard Buttner, on responsible tourism in his original home city and web 2.0:

After the rapid massive rise of international tourism in the 1990's, Cape Town is successfully positioning itself as a leader for “Responsible Tourism in Cities” in the 21st century. More on the website: http://www.responsiblecapetown.co.za/

As born Capetonian (though presently living away from my home city) I am very pleased to see Cape Town take this role seriously by focusing on economic, social and environmental aspects of responsible and sustainable tourism. Appropriately Cape Town was the host of the Responsible Tourism in Destinations Conference in 2002 which led to the Cape Town Declaration on sustainable and responsible tourism striving towards creating “better places for people to live in and for people to visit” and a lot has happened since then.

Cape Town will again be in the responsible tourism limelight 14 to 18 February at the 3rd Responsible Tourism Week organized by planeta.com (the global journal of practical ecotourism ) with worldwide participation - including Capetonians - on web 2.0: #rtweek2011.

Capetonian responsible tourism pioneers, leading thinkers and innovators are also specifically invited to share their stories.

Follow the action at the above links and also watch this blog for follow-up posts.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quote of the day: On determinative and normative knowledge

"Sadly, while mankind's determinative knowledge has accumulated, its normative knowledge has been rather volatile."


SYSTEMS SCIENCE. Systems Practice, 10:13-35,1997.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Roaring Augrabies

For a few days Augrabies Falls, or "the place of the Great Noise" in the Northern Cape, is becoming a place of "Great Thunder". The average volume of 313 cubic metres per secondis expected to increase to around 5200 cubic metres per second, almost 17 times the average flow! With columns of spray rising high into the sky, it reminds one of Mosi-oa-Tunya or the "Smoke that Thunders", a local description for the Victoria Falls. Here are some eyewitness pictures of one of Africa's great showpieces, although when we where there the main falls were completely obscured by spray.

When driving upstream it is very clear that the floods that cause this spectacle also have another, more darker side:

It is when a displaced labourer start asking us what to do next after his house was flooded, the extent of the problem starts driving home. Many flood-hit areas have now been declared as national disasters.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Some thoughts on Christian environmental ethics

The emerging ecological crises have brought a renewed focus on an ethics of the environment. An ethics of the environment and Protestant Christianity are often perceived to be at odds. An often-cited reason is the thesis by Lynn White that Christianity is responsible for the current ecological crises. This thesis has been discussed and refuted previously, but still commands a lot of attention. An alternative Christian ethic on the environment is emerging as evident by certain educational programmes, such as this one at ICS (youtube) and recent work at the University of Exeter.

What does concern is that certain long-term developments within mainstream Protestant Christianity theology and practice itself that does not lend itself easily towards a worldview integrative enough to include the whole of the cosmos. Protestant Christianity has a lot to offer in the development of an environmental ethic, but is plagued by certain internal obstacles. At least two of these obstacles need further elaboration, namely a narrow focus on personal redemption and the Platonic eschatological idea of a sinful earth that will be exchanged for a perfect heaven.

This contrasts with another view within Protestant Christianity that redemption includes the whole of the cosmos and that the future will be a renewed heavens and earth, restored to Gods original intent at creation.

It is my view that such divergent views on the nature of redemption and eschatology have had profound impacts on the development of a Christian ethics on the environment, and need to be critically discussed and where possible corrected for further contributions to the field of environmental ethics from an integrative Protestant-Christian worldview.