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The Old Man and the SNI: A review of advance and adversity in Hueting's research in economic growth and the new scarcity from the environment and sustainable national income (SNI)

Colignatus, Thomas (2008): The Old Man and the SNI: A review of advance and adversity in Hueting's research in economic growth and the new scarcity from the environment and sustainable national income (SNI).

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Abstract

Roefie Hueting (1929), recently turned 78 years of age, has been working on the subject of economics and the environment since around 1965. Seminal results are his notion of environmental functions (WWF, 1969), his Ph.D. thesis “New Scarcity and Economic Growth. More welfare through less production ?” (1974), the definition of (environmentally) sustainable national income (eSNI, UNEP/Worldbank 1989), the eSNI methodology (CBS Statistics Netherlands 1992) and his contributions to the 1999 Hueting Congress (presentation and rejoinders, 2001bc). The figure of national income NI gives production while the figure of eSNI gives the production level that maintains the availability for future generations of the vital environmental functions. For many economists, the current focus is on climate change but the ecological challenge is much wider and more fundamental, see also the Convention on Biological Diversity, Bonn 2008. The figure for eSNI still isn’t included in the system of national accounts (SNA) which means that current statistical reporting on national income and economic growth provides incomplete information to policy makers and the general public. With the dictum “What you measure is what you get”, we currently get “economic growth” that works against sustainability. This review provides a reflection on advance and adversity in 40 years of Hueting’s research in a world that only slowly recognizes the global environmental problem. How do governments decide under risk, how do they grow aware of that very risk, what is the role of the national statistical offices in providing information on that risk, especially when that risk concerns survival for large sections of the planet ? The reflection provides insights that themselves are useful for our understanding of the political economy of research on issues that are politically sensitive.

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