Economics/Class Relations

Herman Daly (1938-2022): Up to the Steady State Economy

by Brian Czech

Herman Daly, the champion of steady-state economics, passed away in the presence of beloved family members on October 28, 2022. In the process, a world in dire need of Herman’s wisdom became a lesser place. Yet we can be grateful for the 84 years he graced the earth and for the legacy he’s left us.

Herman Daly.

An excellent festschrift edited by Joshua Farley, a sweeping biography by Peter Victor, several obituaries, and numerous social media posts have celebrated Herman’s life. Therefore, I won’t delve into Herman’s biographical data and bona fides, other than to remind readers of his professorships at Louisiana State University (1968-1988) and the University of Maryland (1994-2010), plus his senior economist position at the World Bank in between (1988-1994). I’ll add only that, in his retirement, Herman served on the CASSE board of directors (2010-2022) and doubled as our economist emeritus (a nonpaid advisory role) from 2017-2022.

Given the nature of the Steady State Herald, my tribute to Herman will be partly personal, but primarily professional. I fear it will be woefully incomplete. I spoke with Herman on well over a hundred occasions, mostly by phone and especially during my executive directorship of CASSE (2017-present). We shared the basic pleasantries—the weather, the news and the like—and I cherished his friendship. Yet our conversations turned quickly and productively (in my opinion) to academic issues and strategic concerns for advancing the steady state economy.

Herman Changed Lives

I count myself as one among the thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of students whose lives were forever changed by Herman. I’d like to describe how I “met” Herman, as it was a moment of great excitement and enlightenment.

In 1996, after analyzing the causes of species endangerment as part of my Ph.D. research, it struck me that the causes were like a who’s who of the economy: agriculture, logging, mining, manufacturing, various services, infrastructure, etc. This was a presidential election year when American politicians were trying to have their cake and eat it too with the win-win rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.” I concluded that ecologists like myself had a role to play in clarifying the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, starting with wildlife conservation.

Much to my chagrin, the wildlife ecology literature had literally nothing pertaining to economic growth. The forestry, fisheries, range management, and other natural resources journals also came up dry. I tried key phrases like “limits to growth,” “conflict between economic growth and environmental protection,” and “alternatives to economic growth.”

Finally, one day in the main library at the University of Arizona, I encountered a nascent body of literature called “ecological economics.” One name was particularly prominent: Herman Daly of course. And voila, “steady state economy” appeared as well. The phrase instantly resonated.

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