McKibben: Deep Economy

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Bill McKibben, Deep Economy : The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. New York : Times Books, 2007. 261 pages; includes bibliographical references and index.

I enjoy books that challenge the neoliberal norm and offer intelligent, thought-provoking alternatives. Deep Economy certainly did that!

McKibben essentially argues that we’d be better of with more localised communities. He doesn’t want to turn back the clock, and he doesn’t say that globalisation is the root of all evil. However, he does argue that by strengthening local community, we will end up with a healthier planet, healthier jobs, and healthier emotional and physical selves.

In order to make that happen though, we’ll need to undergo a paradigm shift. Growth should stop being the focus of our economy, a synonym for progress. We need to realise that "for the first time in human history, 'more' is no longer synonymous with 'better'".

I’m not going to lie; to a certain extent, McKibben was preaching to the choir. I am not a fan of neoliberalism, or the direction our economy and society has trended towards in the past few decades (towards more and more reliance on the individual instead of community, towards an ever widening gap between rich and poor, towards weaker and weaker government regulations). But even so, I flatter myself that I know how to evaluate an argument, and McKibben’s case is a strong one. He uses both logical arguments and a variety of examples to show how we’d be better off if we changed our goals and values. I highly recommend this one to anyone concerned about the current state of affairs, anyone looking for a different way to evaluate their life, anyone looking for a hopeful vision of the future. Don’t be scared off because it’s "economics," it’s not at all theoretical or academic. Just personable, engaging, and intelligent.

In the end, I think I’ll let McKibben speak for himself:

Shifting our focus to local economies will not mean abandoning Adam Smith or doing away with markets. Markets, obviously, work. Building a local economy will mean, however, ceasing to worship markets as infallible and consciously setting limits on their scope. We will need to downplay efficiency and pay attention to other goals. We will have to make the biggest changes to our daily habits in generations and the biggest change, as well, to our worldview, our sense of what constitutes progress.

Such a shift is neither "liberal" nor "conservative." It borrows some elements from our reigning political philosophies, and is in some ways repugnant to each. Mostly, its different. The key questions will change from whether the economy produces an ever larger pile of stuff to whether it builds or undermines community for community, it turns out, is the key to physical survival in our environmental predicament and also to human satisfaction. Our exaltation of the individual, which was the key to More, has passed the point of diminishing returns. It now masks a deeper economy that we should no longer ignore.

In choosing the phrase "deep economy," I have sought to echo the insistence, a generation ago, of some environmentalists that instead of simply one more set of smokestack filters or one more set of smokestack laws, we needed a “deep ecology” that asked more profound questions about the choices people make in their daily lives. Their point seems more valid by the month in our overheating world. We need a similar shift in our thinking about economics we need it to take human satisfaction and societal durability more seriously; we need economics to mature as a discipline.

-- Notes by EVA

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