WIT Press

The origins of research on defensive expenditures: a dialog with Christian Leipert


Free (open access)


Volume 3 (2008), Issue 2



Page Range

150 - 161

Paper DOI



WIT Press


C. Leipert and F.M. Pulselli


Human pressure on the planet earth is increasing. Uncontrollable and unpredictable factors, such as population growth, catastrophes, migration dynamics and climate, can quite quickly change social, economic, and environmental conditions anywhere in the world. Since everything is linked to the complex network of relations constituting ecosystems, any human action can have consequences that may manifest in different time and spatial scales. Most human activities are driven by economic aims, and most economic benefits are expected in the short term and in a particular place. Attention is seldom paid to the long-term or global consequences of human behavior. The effects most often ignored are social and environmental ones, to the detriment of the welfare of weaker populations and the environment. Though world summits, scientific conferences and governmental and intergovernmental meetings discuss climate change, food, poverty, inequality and sustainable development, political solutions are seldom found. Why is it so difficult to reach a compromise, or why do compromises only lead to weak provisions and solutions? Is it because the foundations of international politics are not solid enough to build anything other than non-binding general agreements? Or is the political–institutional element only a façade of the economic edifice that guides the behavior of states and populations? The economic system pursues objectives that are limited in time and space and uses instruments that are incompatible with the complexity of the ecosystems on which it rests, apparently oblivious to long-term prospects and its own capacity to survive indefi nitely. It would be important to reconsider economic instruments for evaluating human behavior, such as the measure of national income, GDP. In the 1970s, various events concerning the relationship between human activity and the natural environment made an impression on economists and non-economists. Much essential literature was published and the concept of defensive expenditures was introduced by Christian Leipert, a German economist studying the system of national accounting. After establishing contact with Simon Kuznets, he began work at the frontier between economics and ecology. What does ‘defensive’ really mean? Who are we defending from what? These questions are answered here and an attempt is made to clarify the role that modern economics should play in society. In discussing evolution of the concept of defensive expenditures since the early 1970s, economic and social issues are also tackled: the importance of environmental consciousness, the contribution of ecological economics, expectations and hopes for these ideas that are still considered unorthodox, and steps towards transdisciplinary science.