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Theoretical foundations of sustainable economic welfare indicators -- ISEW and political economy of the disembedded system


  • Brennan, Andrew John


The conceptual foundations of the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) are surveyed and critiqued. It is argued that the three underlying theories of community, psychic income, and social welfare economics supply certain theoretical foundations for the ISEW. The focal point of the theories is to evaluate the positives and negatives of economic growth, with the hope of achieving a practical measure of sustainable economic welfare. However, they are not as well developed as they should be: the three theories have partial, underdeveloped explanations of the benefits (services) and costs (disservices) generated in the system. The theoretical particulars of ISEW abstract from the workings of the capitalist system, because the ISEW advocates have not specified a society in the socioeconomic system which we currently have. Specifically, there is no underlying linked systems view of the disembedded economy -- where the exchange economy tends to dominate other aspects of culture. Without a systematic understanding of the political economy of capitalism, the ISEW is potentially flawed in design. Therefore, there is a need to search for a critical approach to sustainable economic welfare. As a point of departure, it is better to have a political economy theory. The political economy of the disembedded system provides an alternative theoretical approach to ISEW.

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  • Brennan, Andrew John, 2008. "Theoretical foundations of sustainable economic welfare indicators -- ISEW and political economy of the disembedded system," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 1-19, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:67:y:2008:i:1:p:1-19

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:wsi:acsxxx:v:20:y:2017:i:06n07:n:s0219525917500138 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. L. Fasolo & M. Galetto & E. Turina, 2013. "A pragmatic approach to evaluate alternative indicators to GDP," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 47(2), pages 633-657, February.
    3. Kubiszewski, Ida & Costanza, Robert & Franco, Carol & Lawn, Philip & Talberth, John & Jackson, Tim & Aylmer, Camille, 2013. "Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 57-68.
    4. Brennan, Andrew John, 2013. "A critique of the perceived solid conceptual foundations of ISEW & GPI — Irving Fisher's cognisance of human-health capital in ‘net psychic income’," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 159-166.
    5. Menegaki, Angeliki N. & Tugcu, Can Tansel, 2017. "Energy consumption and Sustainable Economic Welfare in G7 countries; A comparison with the conventional nexus," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 892-901.
    6. Philip Lawn, 2014. "Measuring sustainable economic welfare," Chapters,in: Handbook of Sustainable Development, chapter 23, pages 348-370 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. Lawn, Philip, 2013. "The failure of the ISEW and GPI to fully account for changes in human-health capital — A methodological shortcoming not a theoretical weakness," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 167-177.
    8. Cook, David & Davidsdottir, Brynhildur & Petursson, Jón Geir, 2015. "Accounting for the utilisation of geothermal energy resources within the genuine progress indicator—A methodological review," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 211-220.
    9. Ali Douai, 2009. "Value Theory in Ecological Economics: The Contribution of a Political Economy of Wealth," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 18(3), pages 257-284, August.
    10. Brennan, Andrew John & Kalsi, Jaslin Kaur, 2015. "Elephant poaching & ivory trafficking problems in Sub-Saharan Africa: An application of O'Hara's principles of political economy," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 312-337.
    11. Kubiszewski, Ida & Costanza, Robert & Gorko, Nicole E. & Weisdorf, Michael A. & Carnes, Austin W. & Collins, Cathrine E. & Franco, Carol & Gehres, Lillian R. & Knobloch, Jenna M. & Matson, Gayle E. & , 2015. "Estimates of the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) for Oregon from 1960–2010 and recommendations for a comprehensive shareholder's report," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 1-7.
    12. Clive L Spash & Heinz Schandl, 2009. "Growth, the Environment and Keynes: Reflections on Two Heterodox Schools of Thought," Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion (SEED) Working Paper Series 2009-01, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.


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