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A Poverty of Reason
A Poverty of Reason

A Poverty of Reason

Sustainable Development and Economic Growth


112 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Trade Paper, PDF, Mobipocket, EPUB

Trade Paper, $18.95 (US $18.95) (CA $26.95)

Publication Date: September 2002

ISBN 9780945999850

Rights: WOR

Independent Institute (Sep 2002)


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In this detailed economic investigation of sustainable development, a noted professor of economics argues that many of the alarms commonly sounded by environmentalists are, in fact, unfounded, and that current sustainable development policies should be reconsidered in light of their effects on the earth's human population, such as increased poverty and environmental degradation in developing countries. In a rare balanced counterpoint to popular sustainable development rhetoric, Professor Beckerman forces policy makers to consider whether future generations have rights that morally constrain and trump the claims of those alive today, particularly the masses of people living in dire poverty, arguing that the current sustainable development program is a menace to the prosperity and freedom of both current and future generations.


"I have always been uneasy about the philosophical and scientific underpinnings of 'sustainable development.' With A Poverty of Reason, we now have an excellent book which carefully examines these concerns and which can be used to seriously debate the concept." —Donald H. Stedman, Phillipson-Brainerd Professor of Chemistry, University of Denver "Beckerman, an Oxford economist, takes on three phrases frequently invoked in debates over environmental policy: 'sustainable development,' 'the precautionary principle,' and 'intergenerational equity.' He demonstrates that each is highly problematic—and that some interpretations of them could have detrimental effects on the world's poor and on future generations. Beckerman finds clear thinking and clear expression deficient in most public debate (even among those who know better), and his discussion of climate change and biodiversity has resonance well beyond those two illustrations. . . . Serious debate about current actions (on inactions) with long-term effects must take into account Beckerman's cogent arguments." —Foreign Affairs "In A Poverty of Reason, Wilfred Beckerman brings wisdom and wit to his examination of major themes found in today's environmental policy. With his economist's scalpel, he cuts to the core of high sounding words and phrases such as 'sustainable development' and finds hopeless contradiction. Not much for slogans, Beckerman goes far beyond the usual in developing recommendations for environmental policy. In his view, governments that seek to provide 'greener pastures' must emphasize economic growth and enhanced protection of human rights and liberty." —Bruce Yandle, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Economics, Clemson University "Wilfred Beckerman, an Oxford University Emeritus Fellow in Economics, disputes global climate change concerns and the need for sustainable development. . . . The author poses the following questions: What exactly is 'sustainable development' and what does it require? The answer is by no means obvious. How does one select from among competing needs and trade-offs? . . . [I]n Beckerman's view, the application of the precautionary principle, 'one of the basic principles of sustainable development,' is not economically justified." —Natural Resources and & Environment "Sustainable development has become a shield for numerous special-interest arguments in the policy arena. In A Poverty of Reason, Beckerman has provides an important, well-reasoned, and careful critique, pointing out both the crucial ethical and economic shortcomings of the arguments." —P.J. Hill, George F. Bennett Chair of Economics, Wheaton College "Beckerman's book, A Poverty of Reason, sparkles with provocative claims and vigorous insights. Advocates of 'sustainable development' are unlikely to be convinced by all of Beckerman's claims; but they will learn a great deal from him, and refine their own views in the process. Beckerman is obviously concerned with the prospects of the poorest people in the poorest nations—and in that light, his doubts about some popular environmental proposals have special credibility. Highly recommended." —Cass R. Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor, Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago "There is no gainsaying the fact that in contemporary times, 'sustainable development' has become one of the most bandied about and at the same time one of the least clearly understood concepts. Given this state of affairs, it makes perfect sense to ask what the notion of sustainable development actually means. This is, in fact, the central question that A Poverty of Reason book asks. . . . very good . . . the author does a good job of analyzing the issues and, in the process, he debunks some of the more extreme contentions of environ- mentalists. . . . I would recommend this book to readers who wish to learn more about whether it is right to ask (some very poor) members of the present generation to make

Author Biography

Wilfred Beckerman is an emeritus fellow of Balliol College at Oxford University. Dr. Beckerman is an economist and the author of many academic articles and several books including In Defence of Economic Growth, Small is Stupid and most recently Justice, Posterity and the Environment (with J. Pasek). Dr. Beckerman has served on Britain's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and chaired the Academic Panel of Economists for the UK Department of the Environment from 1991 to 1996.