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Sustainability: The Economic Bottom Line


  • Tisdell, Clement A.


Points out that sustainability as such does not provide a clearcut guide to policy. First one has to decide what is to be sustained. If this is agreed, it must be in an operational from. However, difficulties may still emerge since opinions may differ about how to achieve. This is illustrated by differences in the views of economists about how sustainable development is to be achieved. Orthodox economists stress the importance of the accumulation of man-made capital to achieve this end whereas neo-Malthusians stress the importance of conserving natural resource and environmental capital. Both take an anthropocentric point of view. For political reasons the neo-Malthusian has had little support but it may eventually turn out to be correct. Economics is concerned with reducing economic scarcity and economists have traditionally suggested four main ways of doing this of which economic growth is one. However, neo-Malthusian economists believe that this may not be a sustainable strategy – it may result in future poverty. It should be noted that economic systems are embedded in social and natural systems and depend on these. Economic sustainability depends on the sustainability of these other systems. So from this point of view, it is just one of several bottom lines. Values must be considered in relation to sustainability. Economics is completely anthropocentric in its approach. Therefore, economic approaches to conservation and sustainability can be at odds with the values of deep ecologists or those willing to accord rights to other sentient beings or ecosystems independent of human wishes, or those who want to make use of value judgments other than those based on the measuring rod of money. Consequently economics evaluation is sometimes ineffective in resolving social conflict, including conflict about what should be sustained. As a rule economics alone should not be the final arbiter of social decisions. It is a part (often an important part) of the social evaluation process but not the bottom line, or just one of many lines.

Suggested Citation

  • Tisdell, Clement A., 2000. "Sustainability: The Economic Bottom Line," Economics, Ecology and Environment Working Papers 48004, University of Queensland, School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:uqseee:48004

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    Environmental Economics and Policy;


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