Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2009

Economists, Value Judgments, and Climate Change: A View From Feminist Economics

Julie A. Nelson

December 2007

Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University


A number of recent discussions about ethical issues in climate change, as engaged in by economists, have focused on the value of the parameter representing the rate of time preference within models of optimal growth. This essay examines many economists' antipathy to serious discussion of ethical matters, and suggests that the avoidance of questions of intergenerational equity is related to another set of value judgments concerning the quality and objectivity of economic practice. Using insights from feminist philosophy of science and research on high reliability organizations, this essay argues that a more ethically transparent, real-world-oriented, and flexible economic practice would lead to more strongly objective, reliable, and useful knowledge.