Elegant Technology: Economic Prosperity
from an Environmental Blueprint.
By JONATHAN LARSON.
The Riverdale Company, Publishers. 1992,
Larson's study has two dimensions: a critical analysis of society, in the line
of Veblen, and a pragmatic approach to the environmental problem. The first
two parts of the book are devoted to the former, the third to the latter. According
to Larson, society consists of two classes, 'predators' and 'producers'. The
predatory class is supposed to stem from the ancient hunters, the producing
class is supposed to be of agricultural origin. Larson orders predators (being
members of the 'leisure class') as kings, presidents, heads of sate, political
advisors. military leaders, financial leaders, business leaders, elected officials,
lawyers. economists, clergy. (p. 63) He orders the producers as Nobel prize
winners. theoretical scientists. process inventors, high-tech entrepreneurs,
process engineers. industrial designers, product inventors, development specialists.
This aspect of Larson's approach contains refreshing ideas. but it does insufficient
justice to the productive contributions by the social actors categorized as
Larson is strongest when he focuses on the environmental effects of technology.
Giving proof of a sound knowledge of production techniques. he indicates what
is wrong with many present-day production processes. He also makes suggestions
for drastic improvements in this field. aiming at elegant technology. Larson
pleads for 'what he calls upstream solutions (solutions found in the field
of production itself. rather than downstream solutions' (imposed by circles
of high finance). (p. 185) According to him solutions must be focused on closing
the loop in a mondial ecosystem: 'Until this closed loop organization found
in nature is copied by industrial design, the planet is doomed. (p. 188)
Larson defines elegant technology as a design that solves problems according
to various criteria that have a typical economic as well environmental nature'
(pp. 192-4) Pollution is a function of design. .He points out that in production
processes, catalysts and other production factors must be applied in such a
way that they are both functionally and environmentally benign. (p. 184) He
stresses that design is the key link between economy and environment, and must
be oriented towards disassembly, separation of waste, and recycling. Larson
believes that, in agriculture, elegant solutions must be directed towards maintaining
the natural fertility of the soil. (pp. 199ff) In this way it is possible to
steer clear of the destruction of nature by one-sided, profit oriented production
techniques. These constitute the 'technology trap', which must be avoided.
Larson also pays attention to subjects such as housing, population policy,
and the social implications of production techniques.
Larson advocates purposeful social behavior focused on the preservation of
the resources of wealth and based on insight in the causalities which affect
these resources. He rightly emphasizes the significance of nature-benign production
techniques in this, and the necessity of taking 'hurdles', mentioning hurdles
of awareness, value hurdles, political hurdles, and economic hurdles. His thought
has an idealistic component and his analysis has a holistic trait. As such
it is a welcome complement to most of present-day environmental studies characterized
by an objective and individualist approach.
Larson's study offers many ideas not found in standard literature on environmental
economics. It fits well into the tradition of the New Institutionalists, and
contributes considerably to the continuation of this current in economics into
'the age of the environment' Also on these grounds the book must be recommended.
Wageningen Agricultural University JACOB J. KRABBE
SEE ALSO--Elegant Technology: the