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As if the Future Mattered

Translating Social and Economic Theory into Human Behavior

The study on which this book is based was sponsored by the Program for the Study of Sustainable Change and Development (SCD) in the Global Development And Environment Institute at Tufts University. SCD is an interdisciplinary program linking economics to the adjacent social sciences and founded on the premise that there is a need for new, more real-world; oriented approaches to social science theory and application, especially in economics, to address the tensions between present and future; individual and social and local and global needs and goals.

Work on the project of this book was advanced by a series of faculty seminars on the Tufts campus in the spring semesters of 1991 and 1992. Most of the essays commissioned for the study were first presented in the seminars, where they were discussed and debated by an interdisciplinary group including both academics and environmental activists from the greater Boston area. Four of the essays in the book -- those by George M. Newcombe, David Dapice, Franklin Tugwell, and Zbigniew Bochniarz -- treat issues that fall squarely within the area defined as "environmentalism." In fact, the logical convergence of future-regardingness and environmentalism is so strong that the whole book could have become a contribution to the environmental literature exclusively. However, we resisted going in that direction because there are a number of topics not uniquely associated with environmentalism (investment is an outstanding example) that are of great importance for the future of every aspect of human experience, including, but not limited to, our interactions with the natural world.

It seemed particularly important to investigate areas of future-regardingness that are not commonly addressed by environmentalists because there are times when people with social concerns find themselves in opposition to the environmentalists. This is especially true when protection of nature seems to conflict with the needs of the more vulnerable members of human societies. While the champions of the poor and the champions of the environment have sometimes been involved in similar attempts to resist the powerful forces driving, and benefiting from, shortsighted economic development, only recently has this common threat resulted in a common cause. The integration of these interests is emerging as a goal of the 1990s. It can be called socially and environmentally just and sustainable development.

That phrase contains within it all of the elements that will be related, in this volume, to the issue of future-regarding behavior. Development, of course, is a future-oriented concept: it is about taking actions now that are intended to result in improved circumstances later. One reason it has been necessary to attach so many modifiers to the word is that many activities initially proclaimed as development successes have turned out to be only short-term achievements. Another reason is that there have been numerous examples of development that have improved the lot of the people who possess political and economic power at the expense of those without such power.

The leading voices of protest against development-for-the-powerful used to be the advocates for the poor and disenfranchised. Certainly these voices were not entirely futile. However, their recent alignment with those who press to make development environmentally sustainable may have the fortunate effect of causing several groups to recognize some shared goals. As we project our concerns further into the future, the concepts of social and economic health become increasingly relevant to the powerful groups that are most likely to benefit from development; as well as to the human and natural elements that are immediately hurt by social and environmental injustice and unsustainability.

In recognition of the diverse issues that need to be addressed if we are to achieve the recently formulated goal of socially and environmentally just and sustainable development, the papers chosen for this volume represent the experience of individuals from an unusually wide range of intellectual traditions. A significant limitation is that all come from within the industrialized North. This limitation was accepted on the belief that the experiences and traditions of other parts of the world regarding the subject of this book might be sufficiently different that it would be too difficult to represent them in a single volume. A companion volume, initiated from the South, would be most welcome.

Concern for the future, cooperation, justice -- these subjects lie at the intersection of many streams of thought, including theories of economics and of ethics as well as the interdisciplinary approaches being pioneered under the heading, "environmental studies." In the past, this messy intersection has often been abandoned by the social science disciplines and left to be worked out in the political process. That is not entirely bad; in many cases moral issues may be better understood or resolved through living them than through discussing them. However, reflection and analysis also have their place. It would be a sad retreat if the social sciences were to conclude that they had nothing to contribute to matters with a significant moral component.

Thus, one of the underlying concerns of this book is to locate the areas in society -- including in the academic disciplines;where we might find sources of intellectual leadership to contribute solutions to the problem of shortsightedness. It is therefore appropriate, in the rest of this preface, to give the reader an idea of the disciplinary or other traditions that are closest to each of the contributors to the book, keeping in mind that each of them has crossed disciplinary boundaries at least as much as he or she has depended upon them. It will be evident that the contributions were selected in such a way as to present a mix of theoretical speculation with descriptions of actual behaviors and institutions.

The topic of part 1, "Investment as a Link between Present and Future", assumes that no one who is without concern for the future will bother to make investments. The salient questions here are: to what extent, and under what circumstances, do investment activities tend to bring individual and societal interests into consonance and which institutional frameworks encourage or inhibit the longer-range and/or more socially beneficial types of investment? These questions are addressed in part 1 in essays by the following individuals.

  1. Michael E. Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School, was the coordinator of the school's massive Time Horizons Study (presented to the U.S. Senate Banking Committee in June of 1992). He contributes an exceptionally detailed understanding of the institutional environment that has developed in relation to capital investment in the United States.

  2. Neva R. Goodwin, an economist by training, is co-director of the Global Development And Environment Institute at Tufts University. A theorist who is especially concerned with the development of the social sciences in general and economics in particular, in this paper she uses the work of such business observers as Michael Porter as the basis for examining the intersection of ethics and economics, especially in capital markets.

  3. Fred Block is an economic sociologist who currently chairs the sociology department of the University of California at Davis. He has written extensively on the measurement of savings in the United States. His book Postindustrial Possibilities: A Critique of Economic Discourse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990) explores problems of economic measurement and economic argument.

  4. George M. Newcombe is a member of the New York law firm Simpson Thacher and Bartlett. He specializes in advising clients and arguing cases where the focus is on the environmental liability of corporations, especially banks.

  5. David Seckler is Director General, International Irrigation Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka. A development economist, he views investment broadly as an essential contributory factor to development. Part 2: "Political and Activist Approaches to the Subject." While the essays in this section are oriented more toward the experience of practitioners, this section begins (as part 1 ended) with relatively theoretical papers.

  6. David Dapice is a professor in the Tufts University Economics Department, Faculty Associate at the Harvard Institute for International Development, and a member of the United Nations ACC/Subcommittee on Nutrition.

  7. Robert L. Paarlberg is a political scientist with appointments at Wellesley College and at the Harvard Center for International Affairs.

  8. Alisa Gravitz is the executive director of Co-op America, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that publishes a magazine (the Co-op America Quarterly) and engages in other activities to give support to socially responsible businesses. She describes herself as an entrepreneur.

  9. Franklin Tugwell is now president of the Heinz Trusts. He wrote the paper for this volume in his former position as president of the Environmental Enterprises Assistance Fund, an experimental nonprofit organization working to initiate and build commercially viable and environmentally responsible renewable energy companies in developing countries. A political scientist by training, for nearly two decades he has worked on problems of energy policy in developing countries.

  10. Zbigniew Bochniarz, environmental activist, economist and policymaker, is a founding member of such catalytic institutions in Central and Eastern Europe as the Institute for Sustainable Development in Warsaw and the Institute for Environmental Policy in Prague. He is a senior fellow and visiting professor at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, where he has directed studies for Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Each study has resulted in a document to serve as a "blueprint" for that country's development of legal and other institutions as they move to redesign their political and economic systems in the wake of the end of the communist regime in Central and Eastern Europe.

  11. Robert S. McNamara is a policymaker with a long record of service in the public and private sectors. His undergraduate degree was in economics and his graduate study was in business management. Among the positions he has held, that which is most relevant to the spirit of his essay on how the United States needs to realign its priorities to move toward a better world was his tenure as president of the World Bank (1968-81).

  12. In her conclusion to this volume, Neva R. Goodwin discusses some of the social science assumptions that underlie both economics and political science in their modern disciplinary forms. She then imagines an optimistic scenario for the future, one in which there is increased concern for the impact of present acts upon others who may be distant from the actor in time, space, class, and culture or group identity. The essay speculates on the necessary and sufficient conditions under which such a scenario may emerge.

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