Externality [ek-ster-nal-i-tee] [noun]: “We don’t give a shit.”

An alert reader of yesterday’s post regarding David Suzuki’s ongoing confusion over the concept of an “externality” pointed me to an interview with Professor Suzuki in a magazine called Common Ground. Suzuki helpfully clarifies precisely what he thinks “externality” means, so we no longer have to infer from context:

I won’t go into a long critique, but currently nature and nature’s services – cleansing, filtering water, creating the atmosphere, taking carbon out of the air, putting oxygen back in, preventing erosion, pollinating flowering plants – perform dozens of services nature to keep the planet happening. But economists call this an ‘externality.’ What that means is “We don’t give a shit.” It’s not economic. Because they’re so impressed with humans, human productivity and human creativity at the heart of this economic system. Well, you can’t have an economy if you don’t have nature and nature’s services, but economics ignores that. And that’s an unbelievably egregious error.

(emphasis added). I agree someone’s made an “unbelievably egregious error,” and repeated it countless times to countless people.

David Suzuki owes the community of economists, and his audiences, an apology and an unequivocal retraction.

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Copyright © 2014 M. Christopher Auld