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Adam Smith's Green Thumb and Malthus's Three Horsemen: Cautionary Tales from Classical Political Economy


  • Gareth Dale


This essay identifies a contradiction between the flourishing interest in the environmental economics of the classical period and a lack of critical parsing of the works of its leading representatives. Its focus is the work of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. It offers a critical analysis of their contribution to environmental thought and surveys the work of their contemporary devotees. It scrutinizes Smith's contribution to what Karl Polanyi termed the "economistic fallacy," as well as his defenses of class hierarchy, the "growth imperative" and consumerism. It subjects to critical appraisal Malthus's enthusiasm for private property and the market system, and his opposition to market regulation. While Malthus's principal attraction to ecological economists lies in his having allegedly broadened the scope of economics, and in his narrative of scarcity, this article shows that he, in fact, narrowed the scope of the discipline and conceptualized scarcity in a reified and pseudo-scientific way.

Suggested Citation

  • Gareth Dale, 2012. "Adam Smith's Green Thumb and Malthus's Three Horsemen: Cautionary Tales from Classical Political Economy," Journal of Economic Issues, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 46(4), pages 859-880.
  • Handle: RePEc:mes:jeciss:v:46:y:2012:i:4:p:859-880
    DOI: 10.2753/JEI0021-3624460402

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