The Economic Superorganism: Beyond the Competing Narratives on Energy, Growth, and Policy

November 30, 2020
The Economic Superorganism: Beyond the Competing Narratives on Energy, Growth, and Policy

Energy drives the economy, economics informs policy, and policyaffects social outcomes. Since the oil crises of the 1970s, punditshave debated the validity of this sequence, but most economists andpoliticians still ignore it. Thus, they delude the public about theunderlying influence of energy costs and constraints on economicpolicies that address such pressing contemporary issues as incomeinequality, growth, debt, and climate change. To understand why,Carey King explores the scientific and rhetorical basis of thecompeting narratives both within and between energy technology andeconomics.Energy and economic discourse seems to mirror Newton's 3rd Lawof Motion: For every narrative there is an equal and oppositecounter-narrative. The competing energy narratives pit "drill,baby, drill!" against renewable technologies such as wind andsolar. Both claim to provide secure, reliable, clean, andaffordable energy to support economic growth with the most benefitto society, but how? To answer this question, we need to understandthe competing economic narratives, techno-optimism andtechno-realism. Techno-optimism claims that innovation overcomesany physical resource constraints and enables the social outcomesand economic growth we desire. Techno-realism, in contrast, statesthat no matter what energy technologies we use, feedbacks fromphysical growth on a finite planet constrain economic growth andcreate an uneven distribution of social impacts. In The EconomicSuperorganism, you will discover stories, data, science, andphilosophy to guide you through the arguments from competingnarratives on energy, growth, and policy. You will be able todistinguish the technically possible from the socially viable, andunderstand how our future depends on this distinction.