Ecological Aspects of Surplus in Production

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Ian Wright:

" Isn’t there something wrong about this idea of a surplus? Doesn’t physics tell us we can never get something for nothing? We know that energy is merely transformed from one form to another, and usually inefficiently. Plus, what about the finite resources of the planet? Isn’t the fact that the global economy continually depletes the stocks of natural riches, without replacement, one of the major problems currently facing humanity ? Isn’t growth always at the expense of the environment?

We can resolve the apparent contradiction by merely noting that the concept of an economic surplus is relative to a set of real cost accounting practices. And what should, and should not, be counted as a real cost of production is ultimately a question of politics. For example, in modes of production with an intrinsic growth mechanic, such as capitalism, many of the natural riches of the planet are plundered without replacement, and not even represented as costs of production in our accounting practices. On the other hand, it seems hard to imagine any mode of production that would consider the energy supplied by the sun as anything but a free and practically inexhaustible source of energy. And it seems likely that humans can apply technologies that both produce an economic surplus and remain compatible with the carrying capacity of the planet."