Economists and Sustainable Development: The OECD Report on Policies for Sustainable Development

Wilfred Beckerman

Published: December 2001

The OECD report is almost exclusively about environmental policy (on which it contains a mass of useful data and discussion). There is, commendably, hardly any discussion of the implications of the usual core condition in consensus definitions of sustainable development, namely that there should be no future decline in per capita welfare. Economists would also do well to ignore this condition, and hence the problem of a possible conflict between optimality and sustainability. And, insofar as it is believed that there is a conflict, we should opt for optimality since the ethical grounds for not doing so—e.g. that pure time preference over generations is unethical or that we have to respect the rights of future generations—are weak. A second major omission is more serious and is the report’s failure to get to grips with crucial constitutive and instrumental components of sustainable development, notably civil and political liberties.

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