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Enough Is Enough

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It’s time for a new kind of economy

We’re overusing the earth’s finite resources, and yet excessive consumption is failing to improve our lives. In Enough Is Enough, Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill lay out a visionary but realistic alternative to the perpetual pursuit of economic growth—an economy where the goal is not more but enough.

They explore specific strategies to conserve natural resources, stabilize population, reduce inequality, fix the financial system, create jobs, and more—all with the aim of maximizing long-term well-being instead of short-term profits. Filled with fresh ideas and surprising optimism, Enough Is Enough is the primer for achieving genuine prosperity and a hopeful future for all.

“Humans seem to be intent on confirming the argument of biologist Ernst Mayr that higher intelligence may be a lethal mutation. But the grim prognosis is not inevitable. This lucid, informed, and highly constructive book shows that with the will to act, solutions can be found to build a steady-state economy geared to meeting human needs.”
—Noam Chomsky

“Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill bring clarity and style to their impassioned and meticulous analysis, offering the way to a better quality of life and a sustainable future for all.”
—Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, University of York; cofounder, The Equality Trust; and coauthor of The Spirit Level

“Dietz and O’Neill create a remarkable vision—a world with enough prosperity and happiness for everyone, not just for a few. This book will restore your hope in the future and give you specific things you can do to help!”
—Thom Hartmann, internationally syndicated talk show host and author of twenty-four books

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Chapter 1. Have You Had Enough?

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A person who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

LAO TZU (SIXTH CENTURY B.C.E.)

A game of checkers offers very little insight into how to solve the world’s intertwined environmental and social problems, or so I thought. In one particular game, my opponent opened with a series of reckless moves, placing checker after checker in harm’s way. When I jumped the first one and swiped it off the board, I briefly wondered if I was being lured into a trap. But it was just a fleeting thought. After all, my opponent was only five years old.

I was playing against my daughter. She had just gotten home from her kindergarten class, and I was giving her a few strategy pointers from my limited bag of tricks. Her moves showed some modest improvement, but after a while, we both lost interest in the game. Besides, there are other fun things you can do with checkers, like seeing how high a tower you can build. At first, we were fast and free with our stacking—we even plopped down two or three checkers at a time. But as the tower grew, we changed our approach. With the light touch and steady hands of a surgical team, we took turns adding checkers one by one to the top of the stack. By this point, our formerly straight tower had taken on a disconcerting lean. On our final attempt to increase its height, the mighty checker tower reached the inevitable tipping point and came crashing down to earth. Like a reporter interpreting the scene, my daughter remarked, “Sometimes when things get too big, they fall.”

 

Chapter 2. Why Should Enough Be the Goal?

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Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.

KENNETH BOULDING 1

To appreciate why an economy based on enough is worth striving for, it is useful to examine the failings of an economy that forever chases more. It’s no secret that the dominant economic philosophy of modernity is more—more people and more production, more money and more consumption. Employees try to earn more income, business managers try to report more revenue on the balance sheet, and politicians try to ensure that the economy churns out more goods and services. On the surface, more seems like a good idea. For an employee, more money can mean financial security; for a business manager, more revenue can result in a promotion; and for a politician, more national income can generate votes in the next election. But if you dig beneath the surface, you begin to uncover the fatal flaws of more.

One person who has dug deeply is Jack Santa-Barbara. The story of his career serves as a personal case study for choosing enough instead of more. After earning a doctorate in psychology and working in academia for a while, he founded Corporate Health Consultants (CHC), a company with a mission to reduce stress on working people and help them improve their mental health. His company succeeded in both achieving its mission and turning a considerable profit. But money was never the motivation for Santa-Barbara. He says, “I’ve taken on work in my career only because I thought it was useful and interesting,” a sentiment that’s supported by his determined pursuit of other interests.2

 

Chapter 3. How Much Is Enough?

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This extraordinary ramping up of global economic activity has no historical precedent. It’s totally at odds with our scientific knowledge of the finite resource base and the fragile ecology on which we depend for survival.

TIM JACKSON 1

Determining how big the economy can grow with respect to the biosphere is a problem of scale, and scale is a concept that confounds many people. I met one such confounded person during a bike trip along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The C&O Canal cuts a narrow path for 185 miles through the leafy, rock-strewn countryside of Maryland. After its completion in 1850, barges loaded with coal, timber, and food floated down the canal from the hills of Maryland into the heart of Washington, D.C. For seventy-four years, mules walked the towpath, pulling the barges, until competition from railroads and relentless poundings from floods put the canal out of business.2

But the C&O has lived a good life in its post-commerce years as a recreational respite from the hustle and bustle of Washington and other nearby towns. Along with its noteworthy scenery, the canal’s route wanders through the tumultuous history of the American Civil War. It includes such destinations as Harpers Ferry, where the abolitionist John Brown seized the federal arsenal, and Antietam, one of the bloodiest battlefields of the war. This rich history helped the C&O attain its status as a National Historical Park and avoid being swallowed by the urban sprawl that radiated from the national capital after World War II.

 

Chapter 4. What Sort of Economy Provides Enough?

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It is not enough simply to attack the progrowth orthodoxy; we must have an alternative vision.

HERMAN DALY 1

Students in college economics courses occasionally express their frustrations, and when they do, it can be both loud and public. Each fall at the University of Pennsylvania, home of the Wharton School of Business, students enrolled in Economics 101 participate in a curious ritual that can fairly be described as loud and public. The night before the first midterm exam, students abandon the library early, even though you’d expect them to linger among the dusty rows of books for one last look at their production-possibility frontiers and supply-and-demand curves. It doesn’t take a reconnaissance team to track down the missing students—they can be found hanging out on the Junior Balcony and grassy field of the lower Quad.

More and more students make their way to the Quad as the hour approaches midnight. A nervous energy begins to pulse through the crowd, and windows open in the dorm rooms above, so that residents can get a good look at the gathering horde. A minute before midnight, an unsettling quiet descends on the students as they take a collective inward breath. Then the quiet is broken by a countdown, much like the one in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Ten, nine, eight, seven, …

 

Chapter 5. Enough Throughput

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Limiting Resource Use and Waste Production

The Earth has no way of registering good intentions or future inventions or high hopes. It doesn’t even pay attention to dollars, which are, from a planet’s point of view, just a charming human invention. Planets measure only physical things—energy and materials and their flows into and out of the changing populations of living creatures.

DONELLA MEADOWS 1

Whether a mansion in Monaco, an apartment in Argentina, or a cottage in Cambodia, every household has a measurable metabolism. Materials, from trash cans to ceiling fans, from apple pies to French fries, flow into the household from external sources. Each household also obtains supplies of energy, such as electricity, sunshine, and natural gas, from the outside world. Members of the household consume the materials and use the energy to support their lifestyles. And finally, the household completes the metabolic process by expelling wastes to the environment through carbon dioxide emissions, wastewater discharge, and trash disposal. This metabolism, the flow of materials and energy and the emission of wastes, can be called the throughput of the household.

 

Chapter 6. Enough People

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Stabilizing Population

I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people. The same problem becomes harder, or ultimately impossible, when more people are involved.

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH 1

An unusual house sits in a typical middle-class neighborhood in the suburbs of Atlanta. Fifty homes that look like an early 1970s vision of the American dream line the neighborhood’s shady cul-de-sacs. The mass-produced houses sit on parcels carved out of the forested red-clay slopes typical of Georgia’s Piedmont region. These houses mostly look alike, since they share the same cultural and architectural roots, but the very last house at the end of the street stands out. It’s a custom job with unusual coffee-colored brickwork, small built-in courtyards for rock gardens, and a design that still strikes most observers as being modern. It is the home of a Chinese-American family, and the youngest of the family’s four children was my best friend when I was a kid.

It was obvious, even to a second-grader, that David’s house was different on the outside, but I also noticed something different the first time I saw the inside. On the wall of the study, the room where we spent time discussing crucial matters such as Halloween costumes and the best design for a bicycle seat (banana or standard?), was a row of framed photos of U.S. presidents, from Lyndon Johnson to Jimmy Carter. Now that’s an odd choice for a wall decoration, especially in a home adorned with scrolls, sculptures, and pottery from the Far East. Even odder was that each photo had a hand-written message and signature on it.

 

Chapter 7. Enough Inequality

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Distributing Income and Wealth

Among the new objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, none struck me with greater force than the equality of conditions. I easily perceived the enormous influence that this primary fact exercises on the workings of the society.

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE (1835) 1

In 1897 two tremendously influential artists were born in the American South. One lived a life of poverty, died in his forties among the ashes of his burned-down house, and remained anonymous until years after his death. The other lived into his mid-sixties, garnered international fame, and accumulated plenty of money and prestigious awards.

If you have a name like Blind Willie Johnson, then you just might be a blues musician. In the life stories of blues artists, it’s hard to separate myth from fact, but according to a mishmash of sources, Johnson was raised by his father and stepmother, both of whom had a mean streak. When Johnson was seven years old, his father beat his stepmother when he caught her with another man. In a ghastly moment of revenge, she picked up a handful of lye and threw it into the face of her attacker’s son.2 Blind as a result of this violent act, Johnson turned to religion and gospel music. He went on to preach and perform on street corners. He played a soulful slide guitar while singing with a gravelly bass voice “that could grind glass.”3 He caught the attention of Columbia Records and recorded a set of songs between 1927 and 1930. Despite his musical talents, he lived his whole life in poverty. When his home burned down in 1945, he had nowhere else to go, so he remained among the ruins. In the open air, he fell ill and died.4

 

Chapter 8. Enough Debt

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Reforming Monetary and Financial Systems

Even the apparently simple question of where money comes from is hard to answer. It’s not the government printing press; money really originates when banks make loans. And since they charge interest for those loans, part of the endless-economic-growth model is in place right from the beginning—without the growth, you can’t pay off the interest.

BILL MCKIBBEN 1

In the early 1990s when financial derivatives were taking off in the world of securities trading, one of Wall Street’s rising stars, John Fullerton, was taking off on a flight bound for Tokyo. It was his inaugural trip as the manager of J. P. Morgan’s commodities investment business in Asia, and it was a heady time. He was young—in fact, he was the second-youngest person ever to have become a manager at the renowned bank—and, as he remembers it, he was “running with the big dogs.”2

When the flight got under way, he smiled to himself as he unfolded a copy of the New York Times. In addition to the demands of his rising career, he faced the demands of having a two-year-old and an infant at home. The first-class seat seemed like a luxury, but it was nothing compared to the luxury of being able to relax in peace with a newspaper. He should have felt like a million dollars, but instead he had an uneasy sense that he was in the wrong place. The fact that it was Father’s Day weekend undoubtedly played a role. As they might say in the financial industry, leaving his family behind on that particular weekend had a “deflationary effect” on his excitement about his new job. But something else also troubled him.

 

Chapter 9. Enough Miscalculation

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Changing the Way We Measure Progress

[T]he gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY (1968) 1

“Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River …” I was in a backwoods bar late one evening with three friends, when one of them dropped a quarter in the jukebox and selected John Denver’s “Country Roads.” The four of us, already on our third round of beer, began singing along. Soon enough, the other five or six patrons in the bar had joined our chorus. It would have been a typical scene in this particular bar, located in rural Virginia alongside the very Blue Ridge Mountains referenced in the song, except for one oddity. My three friends, Sonam, Tchewang, and Jigme, hailed from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. It was quite a sight to see the solemn, bearded faces of the locals across the bar singing their hearts out with the three Himalayan visitors. When the song was over, all of us, Bhutanese and Americans, raised our beer bottles in a salute to happy times and the universal appeal of music.

 

Chapter 10. Enough Unemployment

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Securing Meaningful Jobs

Ultimately society, not the economy, determines how many people are out of work.

BLAKE ALCOTT 1

Deb Wren is the ideal employee, and her work ethic is one reason why. She grew up on a dairy farm where hard work was the norm, and she routinely helped with chores during her school years. Although she left home to attend college, farm life left a strong impression on her, so after earning her degree, she returned to the family farm to work alongside her father. Wren’s warmth and positive attitude shine through, even as she describes her struggles tending a herd of cows in the frozen winter of upstate New York.

“It was so cold, and we had fifty or sixty new calves—a huge number for our small operation. We were doing our best to keep them warm and well fed. It was aggravating, because calves generally don’t know what they’re doing. But the heifers were even more of a problem. We’d spend the first two hours each morning milking them, and some of them had frostbitten teats—they were hard, scarred, and sore, and the cows would kick like crazy.”2 Considering days like that, a nice, warm office might sound appealing, but Wren looks back on those times with fondness; she thinks that farm work strengthened her bond with her family and helped her develop a healthy appreciation of animals and the outdoors.

 

Chapter 11. Enough Business as Usual

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Rethinking Commerce

Business is the economic engine of our Western culture, and if it could be transformed to truly serve nature as well as ourselves, it could become essential to our rescue.

KARL-HENRIK ROBÈRT 1

What’s the most influential book that takes a critical view of the environmental excesses of business? There’s an argument to be made for Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and E. F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful, but our award goes to The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Seuss created a fanciful landscape and populated it with a technicolor forest of Truffula Trees, a menagerie of curious critters, and two main characters—a clever entrepreneur named the Once-ler and a tenacious environmentalist called the Lorax.2 In part, the book’s influence is due to Dr. Seuss’s legendary rapport with children (and adults who stubbornly cling to a childlike sense of wonder). His eccentric illustrations, lyrical rhymes, and inventive language give the book staying power, but its influence also stems from its universal storyline—a storyline that resonates with readers who have observed the downsides of modern business practices.

 

Chapter 12. Enough Materialism

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Changing Consumer Behavior

In rich countries today, consumption consists of people spending money they don’t have to buy goods they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

CLIVE HAMILTON 1

The stuff lying around in the workshop reveals that someone has been working on two distinct projects: building a wooden cabinet and repairing a bicycle. The warm smell of sawdust competes with the earthy odor of grease, and the tools of both the carpenter and the bike mechanic stake their claims on the workbench. Cardboard boxes of scrap lumber fight with crates of old bike parts for territory on the floor. For both projects (or any other conceivable project), there’s a bin containing several rolls of duct tape. And keeping guard over this scene are sanders and saws, wrenches and routers, and pliers and planes arranged on the racks and shelves that line the walls.

Even though it’s been decommissioned for years, I can still see my dad down there, thumbing through drawers of nuts, bolts, and spare parts to find just the right doohickey to solve some mechanical mishap. It’s the workshop he kept in the basement of our house, and by any measure, it was overstocked. The tool usage rate was minuscule. Sure, he knew how to use (and even how to find) every item down there, but he had stuff you’d hardly ever need. He was clearly a tool addict. He’d buy an oscillating, pump-action, hot-glue demagnetizer if he could find a reason to justify the purchase.

 

Chapter 13. Enough Silence

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Engaging Politicians and the Media

A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.

MARGARET ATWOOD 1

During the summer before my final year in college, I worked as an intern for America’s largest labor union, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Ironically, the AFLCIO hired my services for less than minimum wage. Despite the low pay, it turned out to be a great summer, especially after I learned which bars in downtown Washington, D.C., offered free tacos at happy hour. At my first day on the job, I learned (perhaps not too surprisingly) that the AFL-CIO cares a great deal about how members of Congress view a variety of labor issues. In fact, my boss told me that my top task each day was to comb through newspapers and collect articles about unions and the politics of labor. This was at a time just before the Internet held sway, so I would literally skim through a stack of newspapers and cut and paste the relevant articles onto sheets of paper. Then I would file the pasted articles in folders to be read by the union leaders.

 

Chapter 14. Enough Unilateralism

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Changing National Goals and Improving International Cooperation

On a visit to Leningrad some years ago, I consulted a map to find out where I was, but I could not make it out. From where I stood, I could see several enormous churches, yet there was no trace of them on my map. When finally an interpreter came to help me, he said: “We don’t show churches on our maps.” … It then occurred to me that this was not the first time I had been given a map which failed to show many things I could see right in front of my eyes. All through school and university I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace of many of the things that I most cared about and that seemed to me to be of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life.

E. F. SCHUMACHER (1977) 1

The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, emits about 18 percent of the world’s total output of greenhouse gases.2 The five largest coal users, China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan, consume 77 percent of the world’s coal production.3 In the twenty-first century, when a single nation’s consumption habits can produce global consequences, unilateral economic decisions can be downright dangerous. Aggressive competition, especially among the wealthiest nations, for control of critical resources like land, water, and oil could prove disastrous. The last thing we need is a race to wring the final fragments of growth out of an already overgrown global economy.

 

Chapter 15. Enough Waiting

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Taking Action to Start the Transition

[H]ere’s the deal: forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

PAUL HAWKEN 1

According to Greek mythology, Helios, the sun god, lights the earth each day by driving his fiery chariot across the sky. He has made the trip from sunrise to sunset nearly nine hundred thousand times while the Parthenon has stood atop the Athenian Acropolis. This ancient temple has survived for more than two thousand years because it was conceived and constructed with durability in mind. The architects developed a timeless design, and the builders delivered a strong foundation and support structure. The same principles apply to creating a lasting economy: start with a good blueprint, construct a strong economic foundation, and build well-crafted policy pillars on top of it.

As described in Part I of this book, the social and environmental challenges of our times call for a new economic blueprint. The business-as-usual approach of chasing perpetual growth is failing. It is not sustainable on a finite planet, and it is damaging the natural systems upon which the economy depends. It is also not solving the problems of unemployment, poverty, and inequality. Nor is it improving the well-being of those who already have enough material wealth. To address these issues, we need a new economic structure designed for stability instead of growth.

 

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