In 2015, the United Nations adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to try to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and protect our planet. The SDGs are a most ambitious set of development objectives which promote economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. But extreme poverty, avoidable diseases deterioration of soil, water, oceans and forests persist. For many centuries, individuals and firms concentrated mainly on making and distributing basic commodities such as food and clothing; and made profits from keeping whatever remained after they had paid for the expenses of their operations, such as workers’ wages and the costs of raw materials. Beginning in about 1830 when steam engines were coming into widespread use, successive new products and services continually became available, each offering substantial opportunities for making profits. Later in the nineteenth century, successive new technologies for fast cheap communication became available which, together with more rapid and ever cheaper transport, made it possible and profitable for companies to distribute new products and services; and to promote the benefits of those products and services more cheaply to ever larger groups of potential customers. During the twentieth century, these innovations led continually to some privately owned companies growing very large, accumulating huge resources, and eventually dominating the world economy. Increasingly economic activity concentrates on the profitable supply of relatively expensive products and services to relatively rich people. Meeting the basic needs of poor people for clean water, nutritious food and health services is far less profitable and accordingly has been neglected .The power and influence of large corporations has increasingly restricted the ability of governments to give priority to the reduction of the environmental damage resulting from industrial activity. Conventional economic analyses –whether neoclassical, neoliberal or Marxist – can make little contribution to the understanding of issues of sustainability. This is because none of these modes of analysis takes sufficient account of the immense significance for sustainability of continual changes in the nature of the products and services developed, produced, marketed, distributed and consumed in the world economy. Consideration of these issues leads to the tentative conclusion that a world economy based mainly on the systematic drive by private companies to achieve greater profits is likely to make slow progress in achieving United Nations worthwhile Sustainability Goals.
14 May 2018.This paper is being prepared for publication.