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Sustainability : ethical foundations and economic properties


  • Asheim, Geir B.


The author interprets development to be sustainable if it involves a nondecreasing quality of life. He introduces a concept of justice, and shows that a development path must be sustainable to prevent injustice. He argues, and illustrates through growth models, that altruism alone does not - even in the context of an economically efficient market economy - ensure sustainability. In particular, technologies with complementarity between manmade and natural capital represent cases where sustainability need not result. Thus, policies aimed at economic efficiency, such as internalizing external effects, need not generate sustainable development. The author argues that a positive interest rate is not inconsistent with sustainable development. He also maintains that, even in a perfect market economy, prices may not convey whether investments in manmade capital are sufficient to compensate for the depletion of natural capital. In particular, a non-negative market value of net investment is not sufficient for the present quality of life to be sustainable. Finally, he emphasizes that public policy aimed at sustainable development should strengthen the mechanisms for redistribution from the present to the future.

Suggested Citation

  • Asheim, Geir B., 1994. "Sustainability : ethical foundations and economic properties," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1302, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1302

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ostro, Bart D., 1983. "The effects of air pollution on work loss and morbidity," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 371-382, December.
    2. Krupnick, Alan J. & Harrington, Winston & Ostro, Bart, 1990. "Ambient ozone and acute health effects: Evidence from daily data," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 1-18, January.
    3. Ostro, Bart D., 1987. "Air pollution and morbidity revisited: A specification test," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 87-98, March.
    4. Portney, Paul R. & Mullahy, John, 1986. "Urban air quality and acute respiratory illness," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 21-38, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Barrett, Christopher B., 1996. "Fairness, stewardship and sustainable development," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 11-17, October.
    2. repec:spr:soinre:v:135:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1518-8 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Withagen, C. A. A. M., 1996. "Sustainability and investment rules," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 1-6, October.
    4. Anand, Sudhir & Sen, Amartya, 2000. "Human Development and Economic Sustainability," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 28(12), pages 2029-2049, December.
    5. Pop, Izabela Luiza & Borza, Anca, 2015. "Sustainable Museums for Sustainable Development," MPRA Paper 68360, University Library of Munich, Germany.


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