Decommodifying wealth: Lauderdale and ecological economics beyond the Lauderdale paradox
The term “Lauderdale paradox” has been used by ecological economists since the late 1980s. It refers to the idea, developed by the Earl of Lauderdale in 1804, according to which private riches – the sum-total of the exchangeable value of goods – and public wealth – the sum-total of the use value of goods – vary in opposite directions. The Lauderdale paradox has been used in ecological economics in relation to the valuation of ecosystem services, and also in connection to some branches of political ecology, especially eco-Marxism. Based on a careful reading of Lauderdale’s work, taking into account his political context, this article shows that some of the recent interpretations of the Lauderdale paradox, especially regarding wealth indicators, deserve to be qualified in the light of the original meaning of Lauderdale’s words. Other aspects of Lauderdale’s reflections that could be sources of inspiration for today’s research programs in ecological economics are also emphasized: the extension of environmental accounting to human capital, the study of commodification and decommodification processes in a comprehensive anthropological perspective, and the specification of the characteristics of a steady-state economy.