The World as a Garden: A Philosophical Analysis of Natural Capital in Economics

Dissertation, University of British Columbia (2015)
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This dissertation undertakes a philosophical analysis of “natural capital” and argues that this concept has prompted economists to view Nature in a radically novel manner. Formerly, economists referred to Nature and natural products as a collection of inert materials to be drawn upon in isolation and then rearranged by human agents to produce commodities. More recently, nature is depicted as a collection of active, modifiable, and economically valuable processes, often construed as ecosystems that produce marketable goods and services gratis. Nature is depicted as consisting of various unproduced mechanisms or “natural machines” that are first discovered and then channeled so as to serve human ends. In short, nature as an ideal is a kind of garden that is characterized by natural objects purposefully arranged by intentional human agents. This dissertation first lays out working definitions of the key terms, such as capital and Nature, and then traces the historical roots of natural capital in the writings of eminent classical political economists, such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx. I then examine the question of substitutes for “critical natural capital”, and argue that the preservation paradox is warranted: no one can restore or preserve a part of Nature without turning it into an artifact. Following the recent work of Debra Satz and Michael Sandel, I finish my dissertation by situating the question of natural capital in the broader context of whether some goods should not be for sale, particularly those I define as Basic Ecological Goods.  
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