Fair Trade? Patterns and Consequences of Ecologically Unequal Exchange

SCIENCE FOR SUSTAINABILITY

Humanity depends on natural resources. Worldwide, in part driven by international trade, their use has reached unprecedented levels and will presumably further rise in the coming decades. However, unequal trade patterns result in global socio-economic inequalities and obstruct sustainability. This asymmetry of international trade is a crucial determinant of the capacity of individual nations to accumulate capital and technological infrastructure and thereby achieve economic growth. In their recent paper, Dorninger et al. (2020) analyse patterns of resource consumption and economic growth in order to empirically demonstrate the occurrence of ecologically unequal exchange as a persistent feature of the global economy.

Traditionally, the conversation on economics is centred around monetary flows. The theory of ecologically unequal exchange, however, argues that in order to provide an exhaustive account of economic growth, the net transfers of material resources must be included. In other words, the mainstream definition of value as based on monetary…

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