What if "Enough" Supplanted "More"? A Simple Concept for a Seismic Economic Shift
BY ROB DIETZ AND DAN O'NEILL, authors of the new book, Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.
Economic growth is the highest priority for almost every nation on Earth. Politicians compete with one another to see who can promise the fastest growth. Newscasters report rising economic indicators with glee. Economists in both government and academia promote an agenda of endless growth. But there’s something odd about all this cheerleading for growth.
Even though many wealthy nations have achieved consistent economic growth since the end of World War II, their citizens aren’t getting any happier. And all of this growth has come with huge environmental costs, such as climate destabilization, pollution, and the depletion of natural resources that are critical to life on Earth. The mania for more has become counterproductive and even destructive.
More is certainly a good thing when you don’t have enough. For instance, if you can’t find enough to eat, then more food is better. If the alarm wakes you up before you’ve gotten enough sleep, hitting the snooze button and resting for a few more minutes feels great. But what about times when you do have enough? Eating more food leads to obesity, and sleeping too much could be classified as a medical condition. More, then, may be either helpful or harmful, depending on the situation, but enough is the amount that’s just right.
Suppose that instead of the never-ending pursuit of more stuff, more jobs, more consumption, and more income, we aimed for enough stuff, enough jobs, enough consumption, and enough income. What if enough took the place of more as the organizing principle for the economy?
To make such a change work, we would need to eliminate the "growth imperative"—the collection of policies that make the economy dependent on growth. Currently if there is not growth, then there is recession, and the whole economic tapestry quickly begins to unravel. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a different set of policies we can create an economy that does not require growth to guarantee jobs, to maintain a stable financial system, or to meet people's needs. For example, we can use the benefits of technological progress to reduce working hours and lower unemployment, instead of using them to produce and sell more stuff. We can grant the Bank of England the power to manage the money supply directly, instead of allowing private banks to create most of our money in the form of interest-bearing loans. By reforming certain key economic institutions, we can decommission the growth imperative and build an economy that works for people and the planet.
Such changes will be difficult to implement. For starters, there seems to be a stalemate in politics in which leaders are content to exchange platitudes rather than address the profound problems facing society (e.g., climate destabilization, poverty, and inequality). And there's the power of inertia—we've become accustomed to growth, and despite all the evidence that the strategy of continuous economic growth has outlived its usefulness, we are hesitant to try something new. But in this age of uncertainty, marked by the threat of financial collapse, unemployment, corporate scandals, and relentless news of environmental calamities, who would complain (except maybe a few bank CEOs and other super-rich beneficiaries of the status quo) if we adopted policies to stabilize the economy and improve the lives of the vast majority?
Imagine an economy that can meet people's needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet. Imagine an economy founded on fairness instead of foolishness. Imagine taking action to begin the transition. One thing's for certain: the changes will only materialize when we achieve widespread recognition that enough is enough.