A Fascinating Subfield of Economics
Oct 2023 - Alex Alejandre

I’m absolutely fascinated by the thoughts of authors like Vaclav Smil, Steve Keen, Anas Alhajji, Rule Rule etc. but would like to really learn more. Unfortunately, their Public figures tend to rehash talking points. published material repeats itself over and over. There are terms which roughly cover it:

  • biophysical economics
  • ecological economics -thermoeconomics
  • econophysics
  • ecological economics

However I haven’t been able to find e.g. any universities which offer reading lists etc. I’m not sure who the practitioners would be beyond these “thought leaders”. (Well, commodity investors, the lens through which I found them.)

(While econodynamics with its kinetic exchange models (of markets) etc. applies physics to the economy, it seems occupied only with money flows, not actual economic activity.)

(I suppose a lot of this can be waved away by saying the primary economy must grow to support the expanding tertiary, even as its proportion drops. But that’s no fun. Besides, insight and complexity lurk in the grey.)

Concepts:

  • EROEI / Energy quality
    • a lot of funny dynamics here, in spite of sketchy beginnings Hall thought we’d reach peak oil in 2000 it is a useful concept
    • many counters exist e.g. in a future, we could use kBTUs of sunlight or nuclear fission to generate 1 BTU of oil, uniquely useful for flying or…
    • hard to get reliable numbers due to politics, crazies claiming nuclear’s sub 1:1, others saying wind or solar are 100:1…
  • Energy accounting
  • Emergy / transformity
  • enegy theory of value
  • physical limits of energy (at current 3% energy growth, Earth will boil in 400 years. Thermodynamics.)
  • energy measured in energy terms is the cost of capital explained here

Books:

  • Econodynamics: Theory of Social Production - Vladimir Pokrovskii
  • Entropy Law and Economic Process - Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen
  • Second Law of Economics: Energy, Entropy and the Origins of Wealth - Reiner Kümmel
  • Unity of Science and Economics - Jing Chen
  • Energy and the Wealth of Nations - Kent Klitgaard, Charles A.S. Hall
  • Boulding, Kenneth E. (1978). Ecodynamics : a new theory of societal evolution
  • Keen, Steve (1997). Economic Growth and Financial Instability, Dissertation at the School of Economics
  • Nafeez Ahmed (2017). Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence
  • Ecological Economics - Herman Daly, Joshua Farley

Articles:

  • Schwartzman, David. (2007). “The Limits to Entropy: the Continuing Misuse of Thermodynamics in Environmental and Marxist theory”, In Press, Science & Society.
  • Sitabhra Sinha, Bikas K Chakrabarti, Towards a physics of economics, Physics News 39(2) 33-46 (April 2009)
  • Marcelo Byrro Ribeiro, Income Distribution Dynamics of Economic Systems: An Econophysical Approach, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, UK, 2020)
  • Stern, D. I. (1997). “Limits to substitution and irreversibility in production and consumption: A neoclassical interpretation of ecological economics”. Ecological Economics 21(3): 197–215.
  • On the Energy Theory of Value: Economy and Policies - Peter Stallinga

Organizations: