Scarcity: A History From the Origins of Capitalism to the Climate Crisis

February 20, -
Speaker(s): Fredrik Albritton Jonsson & Carl Wennerlind
Please join us as authors Fredrik Albritton Jonsson (Univ. of Chicago) and Carl Wennerlind (Barnard College) discuss their new book Scarcity: A History From the Origins of Capitalism to the Climate Crisis. Comments by Matthew Shutzer (Duke History) and Charlotte Sussman (Duke English).

The dominant conception of scarcity today holds that, rather than master our desires, humans must master nature to meet those desires; that we are innately possessed of infinite cravings, and society must therefore facilitate endless growth and consumption, irrespective of nature's limits.

Albritton Jonsson and Wennerlind argue that this idea- far from historically inevitable but nevertheless reflecting the costly triumph of infinite-growth ideologies at the expense of traditions that sought to live within nature's constraints- laid the groundwork for today's hegemonic politics of growth. Yet proponents of infinite growth have long faced resistance from agrarian radicals, romantic poets, revolutionary socialists, ecofeminists, and others. These critics embraced conceptions of scarcity in which our desires, rather than nature, must be mastered to achieve the social good. In so doing, they dramatically reenvisioned how humans might interact with both nature and the economy.

Following these conflicts into the twenty-first century, Albritton Jonsson and Wennerlind insist that we need new, sustainable models of economic thinking to address the climate crisis. Scarcity is not only a critique of infinite growth, but also a timely invitation to imagine alternative ways of flourishing on Earth.

Fredrik Albritton Jonsson is Associate Professor of History and of Conceptual and Historical Studies in Science at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Enlightenment's Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism and, with Vicky Albritton, Green Victorians: The Simple Life in John Ruskin's Lake District.

Carl Wennerlind is Professor of History at Barnard College, Columbia University, where he specializes in intellectual history and political economy. He is the author of Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620-1720 and, with Margaret Schabas, A Philosopher's Economist: Hume and the Rise of Capitalism.



English; Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI); Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability