Posts

Bill Clinton, The Nature Conservancy, and The Old Win-Win Rhetoric

by Brian Czech

BrianCzechWhen The Nature Conservancy decides to talk, the environmental community listens. Even some of Wall Street listens. Despite TNC’s low-key approach, no other conservation organization is remotely close to TNC in political connection and resources. Therefore, one of the most influential environmental books of the year is likely to be Nature’s Fortune by virtue of the fact that the author is none other than TNC’s president, Mark Tercek.

It’s easy to like Mark Tercek, or at least to suspect he is likeable. His preface alone suggests this ex-investment banker from Goldman Sachs has become a passionate conservationist. The criticism to follow has nothing to do with Tercek or the true content of Nature’s Fortune. The problem is that the production of the book and the way it is being portrayed could have the ironic effect of doing more environmental harm than good.

It helps book sales to have a blurb from a past president — “William Jefferson Clinton” in this case — proudly displayed on the front cover. Yet for serious scholars of conservation, the blurb undermines the book like a rash blurting of Rush Limbaugh would undermine serious scholarship on balancing the budget. While a Limbaugh blurb is largely bluff, Clinton’s blurb is largely fluff.

It’s interesting that TNC’s own website for Nature’s Fortune does not include Clinton’s blurb. Evidently there is a tension with regard to the use of Clinton’s name vs. the spurious content of the blurb, which flies in the face of ecological economics and sound science.

One also has to wonder if Clinton really read the book, or simply used the opportunity to roll out one of his most famous win-win shibboleths. For those of us in sustainability science, some of the most reckless rhetoric of the 20th century was Clinton’s fallacious, “There is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment!” If you were paying attention around the turn of the century, you would have heard this zany zinger uttered by one political appointee after another. Word in the DC beltway had it that appointees were instructed to issue this pap when it came to discussions about the environment and the economy.

For appointees on the side of sound science and integrity in public service — and for those with common sense — such political puppeteering must have been odious. But as they say, power corrupts, and appointees uttered the odious awkwardly and often.

So what is the most recent version of Clinton’s win-win happy horsey that disgraces the front cover of Nature’s Fortune? “By breaking conservation down into dollars and cents, Mark Tercek shows that economic growth and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive goals. Nature’s Fortune takes a pragmatic approach to an important issue, and turns the conversation from ideology to arithmetic.” Yet Tercek shows no such thing.

Bill Clinton

“Economic growth and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive goals… but that depends on your definition of ‘environmental’.”

It’s true that Tercek breaks conservation “down into dollars and cents,” and he does take “a pragmatic approach to an important issue.” He does avoid ideology and he does utilize arithmetic. But no way does Tercek show “that economic growth and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive.” In fact, Tercek avoids the phrase economic growth, and certainly doesn’t define the term or describe the process of economic growth. He simply traverses the world, pointing out the essential economic values of natural resources. The fact that corporations, cities, and municipalities are capable of capitalizing on such value gets nowhere near a proof that economic growth may be reconciled with environmental protection.

It’s easy enough to see why politicians and even conservation organizations talk about reconciling economic growth with environmental protection. Economic growth is a long-sought, primary domestic policy goal, partly because it was indeed so appropriate for so much of the 20th-century world when nature wasn’t so scarce. Politicians are still so wedded to economic growth that we can forget about hearing from them about the trade-off between economic growth and competing goals such as environmental protection, long-term economic sustainability, national security, and international stability. Most conservation organizations won’t touch the conflict between growth and conservation with a ten-foot pole, either. TNC is no exception, and in fact would be one of the last organizations to acknowledge the conflict, with its close ties to Wall Street.

But let’s remember (since you won’t find it in Tercek’s book) that economic growth is simply increasing production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate. It requires increasing human population and/or per capita consumption. It is measured with GDP. It is a rock-solid indicator of environmental impact, and there’s no way to reconcile it with environmental protection. “Green growth” is the oxymoron of the decade; less-brown growth is the best that could happen. Scientific, professional societies have taken the time to clarify this for the public and policy makers. And some of us have written extensively on this topic. We won’t get the imprimatur of Bill Clinton, though, because Clinton is the consummate win-win politician who will go to his grave as such. However, we will set the record straight with support from scientists such as E. O. Wilson, Jane Goodall, and David Suzuki, as well as the likes of common sense and integrity.

Having spent much of the past 14 years writing a book on the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, on the heels of Ph.D. research on the subject, I have learned plenty about why and how the win-win rhetoric is promulgated. Books such as Supply Shock and Enough Is Enough should be leading the way in educating the public and policy makers about the real costs and benefits of economic growth. These are serious books by serious scholars of sustainability science. These are books that deal forthrightly with the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, and they should be complemented by the likes of Nature’s Fortune, which helps to reinforce the primacy of natural resources in supporting economic activity.

Instead, serious sustainability scholarship in today’s bookstore is supplanted by titles gallivanting with presidential rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment!” The win-win rhetoric makes for plenty of bookstore dollars, but only some cynical sense.

How I’ve Responded to the Financial Crisis

by Andrew Fanning

Since reading Herman Daly’s “Nationalize Money, not Banks,” my head has been whirling with notions of how to help restructure the financial system to support a steady-state economy that respects ecological limits. The current system creates debt-based money by allowing banks to hold only a very small fraction of demand deposits while lending out the rest (with interest) to be re-deposited and then loaned out again (with interest), and on and on. Why is this so important? Besides according gratuitous profits to the private banks for producing money (a public resource that could just as easily be produced by a public institution), the fractional reserve system also creates a structural dependency on economic growth because, as Bill McKibben observes, “without the growth, you can’t pay off the interest.”

But the purpose here is not to repeat our dire situation. Instead, I want to share a plan that I’m using both to disentangle myself from the flawed financial system and to put pressure on the system to change. My plan consists of three steps.

Step 1: Get informed

“The process by which money is created is so simple the mind is repelled.” (John K. Galbraith)

Wow, did Daly say that the financial sector captures 40% of all profits in the United States? While I’m no authority on financial matters, I do have a master’s degree in economics and was even a teaching assistant for Macroeconomic Principles. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t ever recall hearing the term “seigniorage,” and we definitely didn’t focus students’ attention on the fact that “growing the money supply” is profitable. After reading “Nationalize Money, not Banks,” I was left with the familiar post-Daly feeling that I had been blind(ed) but was starting to see.

Fortunately, I received my copy of Enough is Enough in the mail shortly thereafter, and Chapter 8 (Enough Debt) provides more ideas on the issue of debt-based money creation and policies for reform. Also, issue no. 63 of the Real World Economics Review, a pluralist, open-access journal, offers excellent papers on the recent financial crises and money markets. So, having been acquainted with a number of alternatives to the current system, I was ready to roll on to the next step.

Step 2: Start worrying (more)

“Thus, our national circulating medium is now at the mercy of loan transactions of banks, which lend, not money, but promises to supply money they do not possess.” (Irving Fisher)

Cyprus recently joined Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal to become the 5th country in the Eurozone that has needed outside assistance to bail out its troubled financial sector. When the Cypriot authorities meet in early April to sign the agreement with representatives of the “Troika” (International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank), every man, woman and child in Cyprus will effectively take out a €12,000 loan.

That sounds pretty bad, but actually, in the current system, the bailout should have been even bigger. In an unprecedented move that ought to shake the rotten foundations of the fractional reserve system, depositors holding more than €100,000 in Cyprus’ two largest banks have been subject to levies of 100% and 37.5%, respectively, in order to “recapitalize” their coffers. The original plan, voted down by the Cypriot parliament due in large part to public outrage, was to levy all depositors. This sends a very clear and ominous message to people (like me) holding deposits in the Eurozone: the governments of the Eurogroup — representing the world’s largest common market — have proven unwilling to fully guarantee demand deposits in this crisis. And if Europe can’t guarantee deposits, is there anywhere else that can really be considered safe?

Step 3: Take action

“The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.” (Lord Acton)

There are two simple avenues for someone like me (or you) to take action against the banks.

First, I plan to continue using my voice as a citizen to spread the word concerning the inherent instability of the fractional reserve system and get involved with efforts to promote an alternative vision of a financial system — one that serves the needs of the economy and society, while respecting the limits of a finite planet.

Second, and more immediately, I wanted to get my deposits out of the system ASAP. If enough people stash their money under the proverbial mattress, then banks should get a warning message from their balance sheets that they need to finance more of their loans with real equity and long-term bonds rather than debt.

However, I found that I couldn’t easily abandon my checking account because that’s where my employer deposits my salary and where companies bill me for utilities. As a working compromise, my partner and I closed our accounts with Bankia — the giant Spanish conglomerate that has siphoned away more than half of the €40bn in bailout funds spent by Spain so far — and started banking with Triodos Bank.

Although Triodos still creates debt-based money from our deposits, they lend it to initiatives that benefit people and the environment, and what’s more, they publish each and every loan made. They are co-founders of the Global Alliance on Banking for Values, a network of 22 “values-based banks” that have recently issued a declaration calling for greater transparency, sustainability and diversity in banking. Consider the following excerpt:

Banks play a critical role in the transition towards a more sustainable economy. Therefore social and ecological criteria must play a critical role in the creation and use of financial products. […] Banks have to serve the real economy and include broader societal perspectives in their considerations.

Can you believe this is coming from a group of bankers managing more than $60 billion worth of assets?

My three-step plan isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it is helping to secure my own financial situation and putting pressure on the system at large. If enough of us take steps like these, the day will come when the Triodos perspective on banking is the norm.

Andrew Fanning grew up on the blustery east coast of Canada where he eventually earned a master’s in economics. His interests include lots of things, especially the capacity of the planet to support life.

Enough Is Enough (Excerpt)

by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, published by Berrett-Koehler in the United States and Routledge in the United Kingdom.  All rights reserved.

EnoughIsEnough_Final_LoResA 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.”

I sat back amid the pile of checkers scattered on the floor and smiled. With a simple observation and eight words, she had managed to sum up the root cause of humanity’s most pressing environmental and social problems. Even a partial list of these problems sounds grim:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions are destabilizing the global climate.
  • Billions of people are living in poverty, engaged in a daily struggle to meet their basic needs.
  • The health of forests, grasslands, marshes, oceans, and other wild places is declining, to the point that the planet is experiencing a species extinction crisis.
  • National governments are drowning in debt, while the global financial system teeters on the verge of ruin.

People desperately want to solve these problems, but most of us are overlooking the underlying cause: our economy has grown too large. Our economic tower is threatening to collapse under its own weight, and beyond that, it’s threatening the integrity of the checkerboard and the well-being of the players. The economy is simply too big for the broader social and ecological systems that contain it.

That’s a strong indictment against economic growth, but this indictment is backed up by scientific studies of environmental and social systems. The evidence shows that the pursuit of a bigger economy is undermining the life-support systems of the planet and failing to make us better off — a grave situation, to be sure. But what makes the situation even more serious is the lack of a viable response. The plan being transmitted from classrooms, boardrooms, and pressrooms is to keep adding more checkers to the stack.

The model of more is failing both environmentally and socially, and practically everyone is still cheering it on… it almost makes you want to climb to the top of the highest building and shout, “ENOUGH!”

Crying out in such a way expresses intense frustration at the seemingly intractable environmental and social problems we face, but it also carries the basic solution to these problems. By stopping at enough when it comes to production and consumption in the economy, instead of constantly chasing more, we can restore environmental health and achieve widespread well-being. That’s an incredibly hopeful message, but it opens up all sorts of questions. What would this economy look like? What new institutions would we need? How would we secure jobs? This book attempts to answer these and related questions by providing a blueprint for an economy of enough, with detailed policies and strategies for making the transition away from more.

You probably have some of the same concerns as we do about the environment and the economy. We’re not pessimists, but with all the disturbing facts that confront us, it’s hard to avoid feeling worried about the future we face. Yet there is still hope in the midst of such worries. Once we put aside our obsession with growth, we can focus on the task of building a better economy. Tim Jackson (the author of a brilliant book entitled Prosperity without Growth) has provided this much-needed rallying call:

Here is a point in time where our institutions are wrong. Our economics is not fit for purpose. The outcomes of this economic system are perverse. But this is not an anthem of despair. It’s not a place where we should give up hope. It’s not an impossibility theorem. The impossibility lives in believing we have a set of principles that works for us. Once we let go of that assumption anything is possible.

Enough Is Enough tries to provide a new set of principles that can work for us. We don’t want to mislead you into thinking we have a precise set of directions for fixing everything that’s wrong with the world — after all, the economy and the ecological systems that contain it are highly complex. We do, however, have an economic plan that can help move humanity toward a better future where sustainable and equitable human well-being is the goal, not economic growth. Successful implementation of this plan rests on three requirements:

  1. Widespread recognition that our planet is finite. Humanity (along with all the other species here) draws life and comfort from a limited pool of resources. Recognition of this fact requires us to change the way we regard our relationship with nature, especially within our economic institutions.
  2. Practical policies for achieving a steady-state economy. A set of well-conceived steady-state policies can replace and outperform the obsolete growth-oriented policies in use today. But people need a strong sense of these new policies before they’ll be willing to embrace them.
  3. The will to act. The economic changes that are required won’t materialize on their own. We must dismantle the prevailing institutions and policies that have produced a destructive and unfair economy. At the same time, we must initiate and nurture the required changes.

This book is organized around these three requirements. If you’re already on board with the first one, you may recognize some familiar ideas in the next two chapters. Even so, it’s worth spending some time considering the problem of “too much” before jumping to the solution of “enough.” But the purpose of this book (in fact, the feature that sets it apart from others) is to describe how to establish a prosperous yet nongrowing economy. This is not a book that focuses on problems while relegating solutions to the last few pages.

That said, Part I, Questions of Enough, is more about why than how. It’s where we summarize some of the scientific evidence that condemns the pursuit of continuous economic growth. Part I also considers what constitutes desirable levels of population and consumption, and then makes the turn toward how by describing the defining features of a steady-state economy.

Part II, Strategies of Enough, provides solutions — an escape route from the perpetual growth trap described in Part I. It’s the part of the book that explains how, in a steady-state economy, we can:

  • Limit the use of materials and energy to sustainable levels.
  • Stabilize population through compassionate and noncoercive means.
  • Achieve a fair distribution of income and wealth.
  • Reform monetary and financial systems for stability.
  • Change the way we measure progress.
  • Secure meaningful jobs and full employment.
  • Reconfigure the way businesses create value.

Taken together, the policies described in Part II form an agenda for transforming the economic goal from more to enough. But these policies will sit on the shelf unless we can gain extensive support for, and concerted action toward, achieving an economy of enough.

Part III, Advancing the Economy of Enough, provides the call for action. This part of the book contains ideas for moving past the culture of consumerism, starting a public dialogue about the downsides of growth and the upsides of a steady-state economy, and expanding cooperation among nations. All this discussion leads up to the presentation of an economic blueprint that summarizes the components and steps needed to build a steady-state economy.

This blueprint offers hope at a time when we need it most. It provides a viable way of responding to the profound environmental and social problems of our era. The ever-present drone of what we can’t do has become both tiresome and unproductive. The time has come to figure out what we can do. We can build a better economy. We can meet our needs and care for the planet at the same time. We can live balanced lives, including time for the occasional game of checkers. This is our checkerboard, after all, and we don’t have to play by the old rules anymore. Let’s get to it. Enough is enough.

The first $5,000 in royalties from sales of the book go directly to CASSE.  Please click here to order a copy.

The Power of Story for Changing the Economy

by Cary Neeper

“Why is a simple story or metaphor so powerful for learning? A well-chosen metaphor puts a spotlight on our assumptions, with a mental picture that is ‘worth a thousand words.’ When a memorable image explains an experience in a more satisfying manner, we will likely use it to replace old, more limited perceptions…”

–Tasha D. Chapman, Ph.D., Adult Educational Theorist, Dean of Academic Services, Covenant Theological Seminary, Saint Louis.

Could engaging stories which illustrate the good life in a steady-state economy help change our economic culture? I think so. A good story can attract new audiences, widening exposure to sustainable economic and ecological policies and providing a vision for a stable future. In my novel, The Webs of Varok, a family made up of humans and aliens returns to their planet, Varok, intending to demonstrate how its ancient steady state economy could be a model for Earth. Instead, they find their planet and their family threatened by an ambitious traitor who ignores the culture’s ethical and legal structure in order to accumulate wealth and power, generating an economic cancer. Set in an alternate 21st century solar system, the story portrays many of the strategies ecological economists have described in nonfiction accounts of the steady-state economy, while painting a picture of localization and the use of consensus to make decisions. The villain causes unwanted growth by ignoring these policies and doing things akin to the way they’re done here on present-day Earth. Although her species has a natural talent for mood reading, the villain is able to close her mind and block others from reading her — a metaphor for our recent problems with obfuscation in the practice of law and secrecy in both economic and financial affairs.

Stories At WorkI have yet to find other novels that illustrate the steady state, though many science fiction novels have portrayed social issues and helped to change public perceptions, one of the most powerful being George Orwell’s 1984. But stories that change public perceptions can come in other forms besides novels. The soap operas of the Population Media Center offer a good example. The Center’s radio and television serials have positively influenced attitudes about family planning and reproductive health.

Near the end of the excellent nonfiction book, Enough Is Enough, Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill offer “…ten encouraging fictional scenes from a steady-state economy.” We could all probably amplify these ten brief descriptions with personal experiences. In addition, they begin each chapter with an anecdote and a cartoon. These engaging story devices provide more than simple entertainment — they ease readers toward change.

While developing The Webs of Varok, I encountered a few “limited perceptions,” actually misperceptions, of the steady state. People assumed that it meant socialism, stagnation, or too much regulation. To move our culture toward change, our stories need to illustrate why these words do not apply to steady state economics.

A steady state does not require micromanagement. In my novel, Varok’s global democratic government is limited to overseeing resource accounting and to defining widespread needs and problems. Locales take responsibility for solving those problems and enforcing policies appropriate for their unique ecology. No-growth ethics are clearly contrasted with the growth policies that exist in both capitalist and socialist systems.

The past two centuries have imprinted us with rapidly developing and often beneficial technologies. Many assume, therefore, that technology can secure the future. For example, recent articles celebrate, “everyone can have an iPhone,” neglecting the limited quantity of rare earth metals needed to make them. Technology can go only so far in pushing back the limits to growth — we still need to make the transition to a steady-state economy, but many people wrongly equate such an economy with stagnation. Webs helps correct this perception by showing a less-frantic, more-equitable society, where people share large appliances, support local agriculture, and enjoy shorter work hours. Webs’ characters have more time for education, for the development of creative visions and selective technologies, and for mindful enhancements of life.

Can a story centered on such critical thinking gain popularity? Current movie producers and fiction publishers assume that fast-paced action and violence are necessary to sell stories. Countering this viewpoint are public concerns about addiction to violence among young audiences and the historical human compulsion to gain power over others. Does the deluge of vampire stories and dystopian novels provide fuel for these flames? I suspect the young public is ready for something more thoughtful and hopeful. Uplifting stories can be gripping. They can motivate us toward change.

I agree with Dietz and O’Neill: “…the transition to a steady-state economy requires art and imagination.” Engaging stories that depict solutions are one artful way of helping others imagine a different way to live. That’s why The Webs of Varok, its prequel A Place Beyond Man, and the three more forthcoming Varok novels portray a planet where life has been lived at its sustainable best, equitably, for a very long time. It’s no wonder the protagonists rigorously defend their steady state.

Cary Neeper is a writer and an avid student of complexity theory, sustainability, steady-state economics, and the impact of cosmology on issues of science and religion.  For more information, please visit the Archives of Varok.

The Top Three Actions to Fix the Economy

by Rob Dietz

Fixing the economy will require more than tax code tweaks and stock market peaks.  Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that we need big changes to the way we run things on this planet. Even a partial list of today’s social and environmental problems sounds grim:

  • An unfathomable number of people (2.7 billion) live in poverty, scraping by on less than $2 per day.
  • Our penchant for burning fossil fuels has increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere such that scientists are throwing around phrases like “runaway climate change.”
  • National governments are drowning in debt, while the global financial system teeters on the verge of ruin.
  • The health of forests, grasslands, marshes, oceans, and other wild places is declining, to the point that the planet is experiencing a species extinction crisis.

ResultEnoughIsEnough_Final_LoRess like these arise because the global economy has grown too big for the broader systems that contain it. We have too many people consuming too much stuff. Sure, the engine of economic growth has driven technological advances and provided a dizzying array of consumable goods. But it’s hard to argue that these material benefits outweigh the costs of social breakdown and environmental upheaval.

So we need a systemic change, but what are our options? We could try to increase the size of the planet, or try to find another one that’s habitable. But maybe it would be more prudent to focus on changing the economy. That means shrinking, and then stabilizing, the economy so that it can meet humanity’s needs while conserving and protecting the ecosystems that support life on Earth. The book I wrote with Dan O’Neill, Enough Is Enough, describes policies to do that, but as Peter Victor has noted:

The dilemma for policy makers is that the scope of change required for managing without growth is so great that no democratically elected government could implement the requisite policies without the broad-based consent of the electorate. Even talking about them could make a politician unelectable.

Victor’s statement rings true. For example, in the last U.S. Presidential election, the candidates sparred with each other over who could grow the economy faster and create the most jobs. Suppose that instead of trying to “outgrow” his opponent, President Obama had run on a platform of stabilizing the economy. You can almost hear President Romney’s inaugural address about more oil pipelines, more highways, more consumption, more, more, more. But to the climatologists, conservation biologists, and ecological economists (and even the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers) who are tracking the limits to growth, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need to make room for our leaders to discuss economic stabilization. It’s time for them to begin working on an economy that aims for enough instead of always chasing more.

Victor_Managing_wo_GrowthFrom Victor’s quote, we can deduce the top three things we need to do to begin the transition to such an economy.

1. Achieve widespread recognition that our planet is finite and that our economy has to fit within ecological limits. Politicians can’t talk about the limits to growth because most of the electorate remains unaware of the limits. Even with increasing attention paid to climate change and other developing crises, the conversation rarely turns to overconsumption in the economy. Schools are not teaching ecological economics, and people are too distracted by the routines of daily life to pay much attention. We need compelling stories and broad public education to get people discussing critical topics  such as the relationship between environmental and social systems, humanity’s place within nature, and the benefits of a steady-state economy.

2. Provide a set of practical policies for achieving a steady-state economy. All citizens (even the politicians) need to understand what can replace the growth-obsessed policies in use today. As soon as people begin to get a feel for how a well-conceived set of steady-state policies can outperform the obsolete policies of endless growth, politicians will gain the broad-based support they need to overhaul the system. The heart of Enough Is Enough describes this set of policies, but even a quick glance at them confirms Victor’s point: the scope of change required is indeed great. That’s why we need more than just awareness of the problem and a set of policy proposals.

3. Cultivate the will to act. Economic changes won’t materialize on their own. People have to want out of the current system, and they have to demand the transition to a new one. Without such pressure, entrenched elites (in both politics and business) have no incentive to overturn the status quo. There’s an awful lot of networking and organizing to be done.

With these three actions, we can get the economy we want and the planet needs. The unelectable politicians will be the ones who cling to the wishful thinking of perpetual growth. It’s time to take a stand, to put aside the destructive mania for more, and let our lawmakers know that enough really is enough.

Enough: the Central Concept in Economics

by Herman Daly

Foreword to Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, a book by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill (published by Berrett-Koehler in the U.S. and Earthscan in the U.K.)

Herman DalyI have long wanted to write a book on the subject of “enough” but never did. Now I don’t have to because Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill have done it in a clearer and more accessible way than I could have. Therefore it is a special pleasure for me to write a foreword calling attention to their important contribution.

Enough should be the central concept in economics. Enough means “sufficient for a good life.” This raises the perennial philosophical question, “What is a good life?” That is not easy to answer, but at a minimum we can say that the current answer of “having ever more” is wrong. It is worth working hard and sacrificing some things to have enough; but it is stupid to work even harder to have more than enough. And to get more than enough not by hard work, but by exploitation of others, is immoral.

Living on enough is closely related to sharing, a virtue which today is often referred to as “class warfare.” Real class warfare, however, will not result from sharing, but from the greed of elites who promote growth because they capture nearly all of the benefits from it, while “sharing” only the costs.

Enough is the theme of the story of God’s gift of manna to the ancient Hebrews in the wilderness. Food in the form of manna arrived like dew on the grass every morning and was enough for the day. If people tried to gather more than enough and accumulate it, it would spoil and go to waste. So God’s gift was wrapped up in the condition of enough — sufficiency and sharing — an idea later amplified in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread.” Not bread for the rest of our lives or excess bread with which to buy whatever luxuries we may covet, but enough bread to sustain and enjoy fully the gift of life itself.

EnoughIsEnough_Final_LoResThis story from Exodus has parallels in the thoughts of pioneer ecological economist and Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Frederick Soddy. Soddy observed that humanity lives off the revenue of current sunshine that is gathered each day by plants with the aid of soil and water. Unlike manna some of the sunshine was accumulated and stored by geologic processes, and we have consumed it lavishly with mixed results. Today we also try to accumulate surplus solar income and exchange it for a permanent lien on future solar income. We then expect this surplus, converted into debt in the bank, to grow at compound interest. But the future solar-based revenue, against which the debt is a lien, cannot keep up with the mathematics of exponential growth, giving rise to debt repudiation and depression.

For the Hebrews in the wilderness the manna economy was designed with “enough” as a built-in feature. Our economy does not have that automatic regulation. We have to recognize the value of enough and build it into our economic institutions and culture. Thanks to Dietz and O’Neill for helping us do that.

For more information about the book, including ordering information, please click here.

The Triumph of Fantasy over Science, Part 2

Restoring Science as the Basis for Economic Policy

by Rob Dietz

Right now “economics” means “neoclassical economics,” especially in the halls of government and business boardrooms.  At the same time, ecological economics remains an under-appreciated and under-utilized sub-discipline of economics. To reverse this situation, such that when people talk about economics, they’re talking about ecological economics, we need to address the three factors described in Part 1 of The Triumph of Fantasy over Science:

  1. The psychology of inclusion drives people to follow the dominant economic philosophy (neoclassical), even if it comes straight out of Fantasy Camp.
  2. Neoclassical economics has become entrenched in the culture.
  3. The fanciful stories that support neoclassical theories are more emotionally compelling than the logic (straight out of Science Camp) that underlies ecological economics.

Overcoming these three factors requires three countermeasures.

Countermeasure 1. Frame the limits to growth and ecological economics in a way that prevents people from feeling threatened.

For decades, the denizens of Science Camp have been broadcasting messages about the shortcomings of neoclassical economics and the problems posed by its obsession with growth. To a lesser degree, they have also been promoting ecological economics (and its focus on well-being) as a positive alternative. But to bypass protective cognition — the defense mechanism that allows people to accept faulty premises — Science Campers need to frame their ideas differently.

Many people, when confronted with the possibility that the economic paradigm they’ve embraced may be harming society and causing significant environmental damage, react defensively. I know that I’ve been called all sorts of names (even the “C” word — communist) for presenting an alternative economic view. The key to disarming the defensiveness that comes along with protective cognition is to focus the conversation on needs that all people share (e.g., subsistence, security, and participation) and how an ecological economy can meet these needs without growth. Such framing can dampen denial and open minds.

For example, one time I was part of an “economic vitality” team tasked with providing ideas to a city council about how to achieve a prosperous local economy. The team included a sustainability guru, a business owner, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, and a banker, among others. In one of our first meetings, I gave my standard spiel about the difference between a prosperous economy and a growing one. Since it was a small group seated around a table, I could see right away the misgivings some of my teammates had about my ideas. The banker must have set the world record for quantity of disapproving head shakes. We ended up butting heads for the next several meetings until I tried a different approach. I drafted a short document about our “areas of agreement,” which focused on the city’s needs. By steering the conversation toward things we all hoped to achieve in the city’s economy, such as available jobs, meaningful work, sufficient infrastructure, healthy ecosystems, and local production and consumption, we were able to have a constructive discussion and develop useful strategies for the city.  Once the walls of protective cognition have been toppled, people can access their considerable capacity for logic when assessing policy options.

Countermeasure 2. Use student demand to supplant neoclassical economics in universities.

Since this countermeasure focuses on university economics, let’s use a couple of standard economic graphs. First let’s consider the production possibility frontier for teaching in economics departments (see graph). An economics department can offer only a certain amount of economics courses, defined by the production possibility frontier. If it is spending that “certain amount” on neoclassical economics, then it can teach very little ecological economics. The goal is to move along the curve from point A (where we currently reside) to point B where we want to be.

Now let’s use supply and demand to see how to move from A to B. The quantity (and price) of neoclassical economics offered by universities is determined by student demand and departmental supply (see graph). To lessen the quantity of neoclassical economics supplied, students need to lower their demand for it. This is a natural place to start, since neoclassical economics offers students very little in the way of long-term prospects for healthy and happy lives. Student uproar over the downsides of neoclassical economics is already percolating, and activists have begun organizing efforts to increase demand for ecological economics.

If students decrease their demand for neoclassical economics, then the quantity supplied will decrease.

For example, Adbusters started a campaign called Kick It Over that invites students around the world to join the fight to revamp Econ 101 curricula and challenge the myopic views of neoclassical professors. Another outstanding effort is Kate Raworth’s work with Oxfam on the “doughnut economy.” Raworth is trying to unseat neoclassical orthodoxy and replace it with an economic framework based on meeting society’s needs within nature’s limits. Besides offering a sound premise for structuring the economy, she suggests that students engage in a guerilla campaign to rewrite economics textbooks.

As students decrease their demand for neoclassical economics, casting it into the dustbin of obsolescence, economics departments will move along their production possibility frontier to point B where their core will become ecological economics. At that point professors will focus their research on how to achieve sustainable and equitable well-being, and new generations of students will be grounded in the principles of Science Camp.

Countermeasure 3. Tell a better story.

Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Towns movement has poked fun at the standard Science Camp story. He says, “Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination — some seedy bed and breakfast… with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast — and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.” We need to tell a more inspiring story about the transition to a steady-state economy.

That’s exactly what CASSE authors have been up to, and two new books will be available in early 2013.  Enough Is Enough (by Dan O’Neill and me) and Supply Shock (by Brian Czech) will serve as a one-two punch to knock out the neoclassical obsession with growth. These two books can accompany the ecological economics textbook by Herman Daly and Joshua Farley to provide options for new economics courses along the path from point A to point B on the production possibility frontier.  As more such books and resources come out of Science Camp, professors, politicians, and pundits will have fewer excuses for remaining in Fantasy Camp.

From reframing to organizing, from protesting to storytelling, there’s a lot of work to do to get past the collective mental block and start walking a sustainable economic path. For decades, we’ve shown ourselves to be incapable of accepting facts, unable to modify failing social institutions, and unwilling to adjust our lifestyles. But now is the time to overthrow the academic programs and economic institutions that got us into this mess in which we undervalue our most important assets. Now is the time to tell the story of ecological economics — the hopeful story of long-term prosperity on a healthy planet. Now is the time to demand the economy that we want and that the planet needs.

Enough Childish Name Calling

by Sharon Ede

Supporters of the steady state may have been irked, if they had not been so bemused, by the content of a recent piece from the UK’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), which took issue with steady state economics.

The opening paragraph of the article by IEA’s Kristian Niemietz is:

Imagine Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx and Saddam Hussein were meeting somewhere in the afterlife, deciding to write a joint policy paper. Difficult to imagine? Not at all. The result would probably look a lot like Enough is Enough, the report which came out of the Steady State Economy Conference.

I am sure even Saddam would have been bemused at this randomly selected “who I’d have dinner with” list.

The article continues into familiar territory encountered by steady staters: there are no limits to growth; steady staters and their ilk are doomsday environmentalists trying to spoil everybody’s consumption party; seeking to debunk Malthus and Ehrlich because their predictions have not (yet) manifested – which, based on current trends that a lot of people are very, very worried about, is arguably a bit of premature congratulation.

If Niemietz thinks that Ehrlich missed the mark about ‘prophesying decades of mass starvation in the Third World’, I suggest he familiarises himself with the Millennium Development Goals, which include a target to halve the number of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015. Just because you are not starving, Mr Niemietz, does not mean many others are not. According to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, one in six people in the world are suffering. That’s over a billion people.

Niemietz also creates a straw man of epic proportions when he states that “proponents of Steady State Economics think of people as a swarm of locusts: left to themselves, they will blindly devour their own livestock. But this interpretation is misleading. Locusts cannot generate scarcity signals. We can: they’re called market prices.”

Locusts do create scarcity signals – collapse of their number when the food source runs out. But that’s another story. In the meantime, will somebody contact the Mayans, the Romans and the Easter Islanders and tell them there is nothing to worry about.

A few tips for Mr Niemietz:

1. Limits to nature and to growth are a fact. There is only so much planet. Ask an astronaut.

2. Market prices signal a resource’s availability in the marketplace – not in the biosphere. This is why, where I live, a liter of petrol is cheaper than a liter of Coca Cola.

3. If perpetual consumption is the path to happiness, why do many western nations have such high levels of stress, personal debt, depression/mental illness? Is there a connection between the focus on maximizing consumption via the identity of the individual at the expense of community life and social connection? No chance we are out of balance in this one, then?

The author also cites a nonsensical metaphor courtesy of Bjørn Lomborg – the logic of resource depletion is akin to somebody who looks into a fridge and concludes there is only food for three days in it, and after that, the owner will starve.

An accurate metaphor would be that we are pulling apart our house to burn on the fire to keep warm; we are liquidating our capital, the natural systems that sustain us. Ask any conservation biologist and they will tell you that this is a dumb approach to asset management.

In an article peppered with inaccuracies and faulty logic, the author makes a claim that is way off target – an accusation that those advocating a steady state economy are misanthropists.  On the contrary, we want to see good lives for all, now and into the future, secured through sound management of our ecological assets, and a quality of life that includes meeting material needs – but recognizing material needs as only one aspect of the totality of being human.

Although it’s pleasing to see that these ideas are starting to pop up as debates in this kind of forum, because it means that the growth monster is being perturbed, critics should try adding some basic physics, biology and a bit of history into their all-economics diet. Think of it as a bit of fiber!

Sharon Ede is a collaborating author of Post Growth and the curator of the Cruxcatalyst blog.

Enough Is Enough

by Brian Czech

I have a running dialogue with my steady state friends and colleagues. The subject is best described with the metaphor of a horse and cart. I say, if we want to succeed in replacing the outdated goal of economic growth with a steady state economy, we have to put the horse before the cart. The horse is the public opinion and political will needed for this change. Without this horse, I say, we have little hope of pulling a cart of steady state policies into the economic policy arena.

Many of my friends and colleagues, however, say otherwise. They say I have it backwards. Citizens won’t be ready, they say, to support steady state policies unless it is clear in advance just what those policies are.

Sometimes I think my friends and colleagues are right. Certainly one of the most common questions I get, after pontificating on the perils of growth and the need for steady state economics, is “Yes, but how do we do it?” When I describe the horse and cart, emphasizing the horse, some of the audience don’t buy it. They want to know more about the cart before offering their horsepower.

I suppose we are all onto something. The horse and the cart may have to materialize more or less in tandem. Otherwise the horse may say “that’s enough of this” and walk away, as the grass may seem greener in more conventional “sustainability” pastures. On the other hand, even the sturdiest cart of steady state policies would mire down and rust without the horse of public opinion and political will to lead it into action.

So it was mentally agonizing for me to miss the first ever Steady State Economy Conference, especially with CASSE as co-organizer with our partner, Economic Justice for All. I went instead to a different conference (Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences) in Portland, Oregon, where many new recruits to the steady state cause were assembled. Meanwhile, the steady state conferees in Leeds, UK were busy constructing and filling a cart full of steady state policies. Theirs was an exciting undertaking. My belated contribution is to wholeheartedly endorse the report of their conference!

Actually the report, aptly titled Enough is Enough, provides more than just a cart of public policies for achieving a steady state economy. Part One is mostly about the horse, describing why economic growth has become uneconomic — dangerously so — and describing the alternative: economic degrowth toward a steady state economy. However, the bulk of Enough is Enough is found in Part Two, which is all about the cart of policies. This constitutes the single most complete collection of steady state policy initiatives, tools, and reforms in the literature. That alone makes the report worth its weight in steady state gold. As if that were not enough, Part Three puts it all together into a plan to get the horse and cart moving together to begin the economic transition.

Enough is Enough is an extremely interesting and unique document. It is academic and book-like in length and style, and as well-documented as a Jared Diamond bestseller. Yet it also puts the reader into the venue of a wonderfully orchestrated, interactive, and productive conference. One can almost hear the plenary talks from the podium in Part One, walk the halls to the diverse workshop sessions in Part Two, and reconvene with the conferees in Part Three.

Most conference proceedings, book-like or not, go quickly onto a dusty shelf. I doubt this is the fate of Enough is Enough. For one thing, the university instructor may easily construct a summary slideshow from the plethora of colorful figures, tables, and graphs. Some of the graphics will be familiar to students and practitioners of ecological economics; others were developed at the conference or in the aftermath of this creative burst of energy. Beyond its academic uses, Enough is Enough has the potential to become a manifesto in the hands of policy reformers working on issues of environmental protection, economic sustainability, and social justice.

But most importantly, in my opinion, is that steady statesmen and ambassadors, present and future, won’t miss a beat when confronted with the challenging question of “Yes, but how do we do it?” With a sturdy cart of policies hitched to a horse of public opinion that grows stronger by the day, we are ready to set out towards the steady state economy.

Click here to download a free copy of the full report (130 pages).

Click here to download a summary (10 pages).