Herman Daly, professor who introduced ecology to economics, dies at 84

Herman E. Daly, an economist who envisioned a new practice in his field, a discipline known as ecological economics in which growth is not an undisputed good and the impact of trade on the environment

Herman E. Daly, an economist who envisioned a new practice in his field, a discipline known as ecological economics in which growth is not an undisputed good and the impact of trade on the environment and society account as much as the flow of money, died October 28 in a Richmond hospital. He was 84 years old.

His death has been announced by the University of Maryland, where Dr. Daly was a professor in the School of Public Policy from 1994 to 2010 before becoming emeritus. The cause was a cerebral hemorrhage, said his daughter Karen Daly Junker.

Dr. Daly was widely regarded as one of the founders of ecological economics, a field that stood on the fringes of economic study when he entered academia five decades ago, but which in recent years, has attracted more and more attention around the world.

He argued for a fundamental shift in the way the economy is understood – not as an independent system, but rather as one that exists within the Earth’s ecosystem and is limited by the resources available on Earth. planet.

For generations, the economy had been viewed, broadly speaking, as a circular flow of money. But “as the economy grows, it absorbs more energy, more matter,” Dr Daly said. Noted. “Where does he take it from?” From the biosphere. And the more we consume, the more waste we throw away. Where do we throw it? Back to the biosphere. It’s depletion, and it’s pollution.

Although it took years to catch on, Dr. Daly’s model has become increasingly influential in recent years.

“Herman Daly’s deceptively simple act of drawing a circle – representing the living world – around the schematic box of economics is, I believe, the most radical act in the rewriting of economics, for it changes everything that follows,” Kate Raworth, author of “Donut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist,” said in an email.

“That’s precisely why so many economists are resisting it: because it dethrones their outdated tools and analyses,” she continued. “But the social and ecological crises of this century compel us to start any economy this way. Indeed, I believe that today’s economics students deserve it and should demand it.

Dr. Daly has laid out his ideas in dozens of academic articles and in books, including “Steady State Economics » (first published in 1977 and reissued in 1991), “Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development(1996) andFor the common goodco-authored with theologian John B. Cobb Jr. (first published 1989 and republished 1994).

He viewed the concept of “sustainable growth” as an oxymoron – more feasible, he argued, was “sustainable development” – and argued that measures such as gross domestic product were insufficient to quantify the direction of an economy. Even manufacturing the most robust products and increasing wealth did not match economic growth, he argued, if the Earth’s resources were depleted in the process. Rather, resource depletion was what he called uneconomic growth.

Growth ‘may cost more than it’s worth’ he said“and this is the new era that we’re entering, and we have to come to recognize that.”

Instead of GDP, he promoted measures such as the “Sustainable Economic Well-Being Index” and the “Genuine Progress Indicator,” which took into account factors such as pollution and the destruction of farms or swamps. in addition to the value of the goods and services produced. .

“If there’s an oil spill that we need to clean up, it adds to GDP,” but “that’s not a very good measure of progress,” said Dan O’Neill, an ecological economist at the University of Leeds. in England. in an interview. “He really made us wonder why are we pursuing certain economic goals. Is growth a means to an end rather than an end in itself? »

As Dr. Daly said, economists should “concern about what counts, not what is merely countable”.

Herman Edward Daly was born in Houston on July 21, 1938. His father owned a hardware store and his mother was an accountant.

Dr. Daly studied economics at Rice University in Houston, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1960. He earned a doctorate in economics from Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1967.

He chose economics “because he thought it was rooted in the humanities and the sciences and didn’t want to choose between them,” Peter A. Victor, the author of the 2021 book “Herman Daly’s Economics for a Full World: His Life and Ideas,” he said in an email. “He found he was not grounded in either and made it his life’s ambition to fix it.”

His work was also deeply rooted in his Methodist faith, his daughter said, and his hope for the survival of what he saw as God’s creation.

Dr. Daly taught economics for two decades at Louisiana State University, in addition to lecturing around the world. He was a senior economist at the World Bank from 1988 to 1994 before joining the University of Maryland.

Survivors include his 59-year-old wife, the former Marcia Damasceno, of Midlothian, Va.; two daughters, Terri Daly Stewart of Suwanee, Ga., and Karen Daly Junker of North Chesterfield, Va.; a sister; and three grandchildren.

Dr. Daly was the recipient in 1996 of a Good Livelihood Award, sometimes described as an “alternative Nobel”, acknowledging its “significant contributions to increasing understanding of the relationship between economics, ecology and ethics”. He continued to work until the week before his death, his daughter said.

My duty is to do my best and come up with ideas,” Dr Daly said. told the New York Times earlier this year. “Whether the seed I plant will grow is not up to me. It’s up to me to plant it and water it.