The long-term protection of biological diversity—lessons from market ethics

Poiesis and Praxis 3 (s 1-2):3-21 (2004)
Abstract
Economic markets are not morally free zones. Contrary to popular misconceptions, market functioning rests on the ethical principles of fairness and voluntariness. This ethical foundation can be traced back at least to moral philosopher Adam Smith, one of the founders of modern economics. In the inconspicuous form of microeconomic axioms, these moral foundations are preserved. Thus, virtually all “neo-classic” economic concepts presuppose a market ethics of fairness and voluntariness. In a world of pervasive uncertainty on the long-term development of the human-environment interaction, the protection of the global life-support systems is an important test case for the scope of the ethical content of market ethics. We review risk protection strategies in the face of this uncertainty that are (i) based on the insurance effect of biological diversity, and (ii) that employ a safe minimum standard (SMS). Because the fairness principle of market ethics requires that economic agents who cause “external” costs must, at least, compensate those who are burdened with these costs, the interests of future generations have to be included in responsible economic decision-making. The market and market ethics approach is applied to the analysis of a SMS for biological diversity, and to the inherent problems of such an approach. At the microeconomic level of individual decision-making, an unconditional protection is supported by market ethics neither for the putative interests of future generations nor for biological diversity: Poor people who struggle to cover their basic needs cannot not be required to care for biological diversity. In all other cases, the protection of biological diversity in favour of future generations is supported—if costs are not “unacceptably high”. At which cost level this point is approached, market ethics is not designed to decide
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