Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer Reading: Deep Economy

There seem to be a lot of books out there saying that having more stuff isn't a path to happiness.

Bill McKibben's book, Deep Economy The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future makes this point from the point of view of a sociologist thinking about community and economics.

He begins with a chapter called "After Growth" and explains why a growing world economy is no longer a good thing, especially if we assume that other countries would like to emulate US consumption patterns. The planet simply cannot support so many humans living large.

The second chapter titled "The Year of Eating Locally" discusses the many ways in which eating locally is good for the planet and good for us. But I've been over a bit of this ground recently in my post about Laguna Farm.

Chapters 3 and 4 focus on hyper-individualism and its deleterious effects on community. I was glad to hear McKibben take on reality TV. Shows like Survivor celebrate values that are exactly the opposite of kindergarten values:

"Consider the most influential new program on television in the last decade, Survivor, which ushered in the reality show craze. Along with its uncountable offspring, it operates from the premise that the goal is to end up alone on the island, to manipulate and scheme until everyone else goes away and leaves you by yourself with our money."

To give you another taste of this book, let me quote once more:

We've believed for a very long time that America stands tallest among nations. In 2003 Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve was offering his usual oblique testimony to the Congress about the state of our economy. Accustomed to deferential treatment, he was doubtless surprised when Congressman Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, challenged him. "I think you just don't know what's going on in the real world," Sanders said, offering statistics about inequality and insecurity among Americans.

Greenspan replied, in the way that has shut up most of us, "Congressman, we have the highest standard of living in the world."

"Wrong," said Sanders. "Scandinavia has a higher standard of living." Indeed it does, as do many other European countries and Japan—places where individualism is less hyper.
For a moment, Greenspan was at a loss. "Well," he finally said, "we have the highest standard of living for a country of our size." Which is true since the only more populous nations on earth are China and India.....

I very much enjoyed this book. If I had to sum its message up in just four words, I'd offer these:



James Gurney said...

That sounds like an interesting premise. It has always struck me as odd that we measure the health and wealth of our economy by the amount we spend and consume. No one would say that one household was healthier than another if it used up the stuff in its pantry faster. What would happen if our GNP was indexed to account for the number of redwoods left standing and coal left in the ground. That's a form of wealth, too, both aesthetically and practically.

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

Coal in the ground doesn't count in our system. Actually ANY contribution that the natural world makes is not counted, only when you take it out.

As McKibben points out, "Under the current system, all we do is add together expenditures, so the the most economically productive citizen is a cancer patient who totals his car on the way to meet with his divorce lawyer."

GNP measures money spent, not happiness.

Katherine said...
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