Posted by: KabeCicero | September 16, 2009

Ecologically Unequal Exchange

Alf Hornborg has written a great article titled “Towards an Ecological Theory of Unequal Exchange”.

In the article, he writes about how we can only conceptualize and perceive the mechanisms that generate inequalities in distribution by taking into consideration the ecological conditions of our economies. By doing this, he suggests, we can gain access to a higher degree of precision when it comes to analyzing and defining what unequal exchange “is”.

He points out how the criteria used in and by popular economic ideology negate the possibility of identifying the markers of an unfair market transaction (as that perspective doesn’t include any ecological considerations). He moves on by suggesting some markers to track for that will indicate whether a transaction fits the criteria for being unequal or not – one of them being to look at the net flow of energy and materials (productive potential) detached from its (attributed) economic value. In a sharp and concise description of the exergy in the production process he shows how the relationship between productive potential and economic value is in fact inversed. The more energy and resources that’s being dissipated in the process of production, the higher the price of the end product. Looping these factors together draws us toward the conclusion that, essentially, exploiting the negated factors of unequal exchange is rewarded, and that reward is then put into more ecologically ignorant production and further down the rabbit hole we go…

To me, Hornborg doesn’t only provide a perspective that is invaluable in the formulation of arguments and discussions but more importantly I believe these aspects are of outmost importance in designing what I believe will come to be a new kind of economic/trade model altogether. A model where the scope of consideration is widened to account for its impact and effects in all global systems.


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