Turning the Priceless into Price: The Value of Externalities in Ecological Economics and Critical Theory

‘Externalities’ are at the heart of economic and political conflicts over value in the age of climate catastrophe. Economists use the term ‘externality’ to refer to hidden costs and benefits that are not included in market prices. Since environmental pollution and carbon emissions have historically gone unpriced, climate breakdown is the ‘externality’ of centuries of economic boom, presenting a huge bill that past polluters failed to pay. Over the coming years, politicians and policy-makers will have to grapple with increasingly urgent questions over who is responsible for these costs and how to regulate the value of further carbon pollution. Yet to grasp the political-economic stakes of these issues, a more fundamental philosophical question must be posed: How does the capitalist economy transform valueless ‘externalities’ into value in the first place? This project approaches this question by staging a timely encounter between the interdisciplinary tradition of ‘ecological economics’ and new forms of Marxist critical theory. Building on resources from these traditions while going beyond them, the project offers a fundamental rethinking of externalities as necessary features of capitalist value-growth and as an expansive concept that also includes unpaid gendered housework and unfree racialized labor as sources of value.