Comprehensive outcome

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In economics, a comprehensive outcome is the entire result of an event or process. It would include for instance the natural resource depletion, the pollution, and any side effects of the production, distribution and consumption processes. It is contrasted to a culminative outcome which is simply the obvious result visible to the buyer at the moment and point of purchase, and the profit made thereby by the supplier.

Another way to state this issue is Mike Nickerson's observation that "economics is three-fifths of ecology". By focusing on only the "middle three" production, distribution and consumption problems, and ignoring resource extraction and waste disposal, moves considered wise in economics load ecological processes with an ever-increasing stress. It is now very generally believed that some of these processes, such as the dumping of carbon into the atmosphere, causes devastating events, say due to extreme weather and sea level rise. These in turn are visible in the ecologically-insane economics only as insurance payments. By focusing on comprehensive outcomes earlier, many economists hope to avert major disasters and harsh painful adjustment measures.

An example of this adjustment was Margaret Thatcher's decision to end UK energy generation using coal. When convinced by a panel of scientists, including the recognized expert on the issue David Schindler, that this generation was directly damaging forests in Norway and Sweden, Thatcher (who held a Full Honours degree in Chemistry and so was able to comprehend and challenge the arguments) moved decisively to avoid the ecological and political damage. While this was expensive at the time, it had the side effect of improving greenhouse gas control as well, and some years later it put the UK in a position of being already compliant with the Kyoto Protocol when they signed it. This is a common feature of actions taken to avoid bad comprehensive outcomes - they avoid unforseen problems as well. As with ethical investing, attention paid to one problem tends to correlate positively with attention paid to other problems, and reduce risk.

As information about the entire extraction, production and disposal process is made more available to the public via the Internet and other sources, it has become more popular to consider which comprehensive outcomes might lead to uneconomic growth. Many economists, especially green economists, study this difference. It is quite prominent in the work of Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins but originated in the older ecological economics and energy economics fields. Human development theory also tends to consider comprehensive outcomes, especially on populations living near a process.

The concepts of product stewardship and moral purchasing, and initiatives to conserve habitat and save energy, are results of