The book cover.
Enough Is Enough (2013) is an astounding book by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, subtitled “Building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources”. I read it in three days, tossing my novel away with my exam revision.
It’s possibly the best book I’ve ever read in my life; it’s only real competition is The Lord of the Rings. But that’s not really a fair comparison. Suffice to say it leaves all other environmentally minded factual books in the metaphorical dust.
The book argues that the global economy is too large for the biosphere to handle, which is why we have so many ecological problems such as climate change, resource scarcity and biodiversity loss, to name a few. Dietz and O’Neill remind the reader that the economy is a subsystem of human society, which is a subsystem of the biosphere. They argue that as the economy is already too big for our biophysical limits, focusing on growing it further is a recipe for disaster. They are realistic, saying that phrases like ‘green growth’ are sadly oxymoronic, and what we really need is to transition to what they call a steady-state economy. Some advocates prefer the phrase ‘postgrowth economy’ but it means the same thing. For now I’ll go with their name.
A steady-state economy is one which stays at a stable size which is within biophysical limits, while increasing human well-being through equitable and less materialistic means. In other words, consumerism stops increasing but scientific research, the arts, technological innovation, education quality and other valuable things like that continue to develop.
The goal of our current economy is growth. This has served us well for most of history, but for the first time ever, we’ve grown too much. Dietz and O’Neill argue that growth is now failing on three accounts.
Firstly, it’s causing huge scale environmental degradation that threatens the hospitality of Earth. The other week we reached 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, something that hasn’t happened for around 800,000 years. Scientists now have a 97% consensus that climate change is being caused by human pollution as opposed to any other natural process. Species extinction is taking place at a rate unprecedented since the death of the dinosaurs, due to habitat destruction and overexploitation in some cases. That’s only the tip of the iceberg but you get the picture.
Secondly, growth of the global North has been at the expense of the global South. Traditional economics maintains that the only way to reduce poverty is to grow the economy, meaning that as the rich get even richer, a tiny amount of capital flows down to the poor. Unfortunately this strategy alleviates poverty so slowly that for enough growth to take place to alleviate the global poor sufficiently would be impossible.It wouldn’t be wrong or difficult, it’d be impossible.
Thirdly, the book argues that growth is no longer serving the majority of people in rich countries either. Sure, up to a certain point consuming more is better. If you’re living in poverty, then more money/stuff/food/energy is much better. But new research into well-being tells us that after a certain point, the correlation between more and better changes. After you’ve got enough stuff to fulfill your needs plus a few comforts, more stuff has very little effect on well-being. At this point, well-being is improved only by less materialistic things such as quality time with friends and family, romance, hobbies, job satisfaction, nature, learning and perhaps spirituality for some people. Also the boom-and-bust model of economic growth leads to economic instability and job losses.
That’s all very interesting and true, but why I like this book so much isn’t because it succinctly paraphrased all my misgivings with the current system. I like it because those last three paragraphs were a summary of only a few pages in the book. Unlike most environmental books that add a chapter of solutions at the end of the depressing avalanche, Enough Is Enough is literally a blue-print for a steady state economy. In such an economy, there is only one aim:
Sustainable and equitable human well-being.
If that sounds like a tall order, then you’re right. But the skilled authors have got plenty of viable ideas about how to achieve it. The main chapters of the book are named after the ten policy frames and cultural changes required to transition to a steady-state economy:
Limit resource use and waste production
Distribute income and wealth equitably
Reform monetary and finance systems
Change the way we measure progress
Secure full employment
Rethink how businesses create value
Replace the culture of consumerism with a culture of sustainability
Stimulate political debate and media coverage of the limits to growth, and the steady-state alternative
Change national goals and improve international cooperation
For each of these objectives Dietz and O’Neill outline several thoughtful policy solutions that would work together to achieve a steady-state. Although there is more work to be done, they already have lots of good ideas which means there’s no need to wait around. The transition should start now.
They maintain that although the largest economies in the world will need to undergo a short period of degrowth to transition to a sustainable steady-state, there are some very poor nations that need to continue to grow economically to achieve a good level of well-being. As equity is a defining feature of a steady-state economy, a fairer distribution of wealth and resources is the aim. If you’re worried that this all some kind of communist scheme, then chill out. The suggestion of a steady-state has no political affiliation and although the authors are critical of consumerism, they make it clear that commerce and business does have an important role to play in a healthy society.
I want everyone to read this book, so please buy it online, order it from your local bookshop of check if your library has it. I really can’t recommend it enough! I kind if want to post it to my prime minister, but I don’t know how to persuade him how important it is. Hmm…
If you want more information about steady-state/postgrowth economics then check out:
This post by Make Wealth History.
The Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE).
The Post Growth Institute.