Will Corona kill capitalism?

Economic historians know well that pandemics and existential crises can change the evolutionary trajectory of economic systems. The most illustrious case was the Black Death that ushered the demise of feudalism via its impact on labour supply and wages. In the 20th century, the Great Depression and WWII fundamentally changed the role of government in …

How to restore human agency in the technosphere

Most observers of the current climate crisis argue that we need fundamental changes of our lifestyles and economic policies. There is less emphasis on whether and how we must change the fundamental institutional structures of our economic systems. But when thinking about agency in the technosphere, institutions are central. If the technosphere follows its partly …

Vaclav Smil on Growth: Seeing the Trees, but not the Forest

Vaclav Smil is one of the world’s leading thinkers on energy, society and nature. He has just published a volume on growth across many scales and domains (“Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities”). As always, he presents an amazing richness of facts, often extremely enlightening. For example, he definitively shows that all thinking about ‘decoupling’ or …

Global urbanization: The dangerous delusion of economics

In recent debates about reforming capitalism, we observe a problematic tension between the social and the ecological. There are growing concerns about the social consequences of capitalism, which eerily remind me of Karl Polanyi’s political analysis of the ‘Great Transformation’: These social conundrums are increasingly driving the rise of populism worldwide. Many commentators explain them …

Money and the technosphere

Fifteen years ago, the late and renowned Swiss economist Hans Christoph Binswanger published a book that deeply influenced my own work in economics: The Growth Spiral: Money, Energy, and Imagination in the Dynamics of the Market Process In a nutshell, he argued that the monetary economy is inherently expansive, and that this drives the relentless …

In a Climate-neutral Solar Economy, Would the Technosphere Outcompete the Biosphere? A Provocation.

In his recent post, Axel Kleidon offered a grand view on the thermodynamics of the Earth system that includes the human domain. His fundamental point is that the human economy follows the same systemic dynamics as the Earth system, i.e. Lotka’s Maximum Power principle. That means, it manifests an inherent physical trend towards maximizing energy …