Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Economists, time to team up with the ecologists!"

A very fine title for a paper and this one is newly published in Ecological Economics.

The abstract seems to be blaming economists for a lack of interdisciplinary work. Economists get accused of this from virtually every discipline from what I can make out.

I am all for such joint work. Apparently ... "the easiest candidates for interdisciplinary teamwork in bioeconomics are therefore researchers who acknowledge ethical relativism."

I am not sure if I qualify or not but it sounds like I should acknowledge it.

For those less familiar with what ethical relativism actually is and write as follows:

Ethical Relativism is operating in a system of situational ethics. Thou shalt not steal, unless you get a chance to steal from a big corporation, the government or someone you don't like. You are faithful to your wife, except on business trips, when everybody cheats, right? Basically, it means being comfortable with shifting your ethics to meet the situation. I try to maintain my ethics in all situations, however though I believe in thou shalt not kill, ants, flies and roaches die if I find them in my house and if you break into my home and come up the stairs, you are a direct threat to my family's safety and I will blow you away with little to no warning. But since I know these are my ethics, family before thief, I do not consider that a case of situational ethics.
Also see "moral relativism".


In ethics, the belief that nothing is objectively right or wrong and that the definition of right or wrong depends on the prevailing view of a particular individual, culture, or historical period.

Do economists as a general rule reject ethical relativism? My guess is that we would be all for it. Sounds good to me.

Economists, time to team up with the ecologists!

Hilde Karine Wam

Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Box 5003, 1432 ├ůs, Norway


Bioeconomic modeling is an increasingly relevant meeting arena for economists and ecologists. A majority of the growing literature, however, is written by economists alone and not with ecologists in true interdisciplinary teamwork. Physical distance between research institutions is no longer a reasonable justification, and I argue that, in practice, neither do the more fundamental philosophical oppositions present any real hindrance to teamwork. I summarize these oppositions in order of increasing magnitude as: 1) the axiom, held by many ecologists, of ‘irreducible complexity of ecosystem functioning’, which is avoided simply because the ecological ‘whole’ (as opposed to its ‘parts’) is not an element of most realistic modeling scenarios; 2) the axiom, also held by many ecologists, of ‘the precautionary principle’, which mainly surfaces at the applied end of natural resource management, and thereby should not prevent economists and ecologists from jointly building the models necessary for the final decision making; and 3) the economists' axiom of ‘the tradability principle’, which is harder to overcome as it demands value-based practical compromises from both parties. Even this may be solved, however, provided the economists accept non-marketable components in the model (e.g. by using restriction terms based on ecology), and the ecologists accept a final model output measured in terms of monetary value. The easiest candidates for interdisciplinary teamwork in bioeconomics are therefore researchers who acknowledge ethical relativism. As bioeconomics presently functions mainly as an arena for economists, I say the responsibility for initiating interdisciplinary teamwork rests most heavily on their shoulders.

Keywords: Ecological economics; Intrinsic; Nature; Management; Philosophy; Wildlife


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