John de Graaf's “What's the Economy For, Anyway” helped me see the U.S. economy in a new way. He says in Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska's book “Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness” that the economy's gross domestic product GDP is for the richest among us - it's not for the good of the greatest number of people. Economic success cannot be measured by the GDP or the stock market alone. The GDP does not take into account equal access to opportunity and a sustainable environment. More Americans citizens now live in poverty despite a more than 60 percent increase in real per capita GDP.
Some economist's see the GDP as a dismal measure of national income as it shows the amount of dollars we spend, both good and bad, on services. Reckless ocean and land pollution, a $200 million trial or New York City's cleanup after 9/11 generate more GDP. A leading economist joked, "According to the GDP the nation's economic hero is a terminal cancer patient going through a costly divorce." Another economist pointed out, "The current national accounting system treats the earth as a business in liquidation."
Derrick Jensen questions in “The Tyranny of Entitlement: Lessons in Limits” (Orion Magazine Feb. 2011) why some economists say increased production is necessary for economic growth. He says production is the transformation of living forests into two-by-fours, living rivers into stagnant pools for generating electricity, living fish into fish sticks, and ultimately into money. The GDP is a measure of the conversion of the living to the dead. He says a commitment to maintain growth is a commitment to a perpetual war economy.
De Graaf says Europe's smaller gap between rich and poor, a generous social safety net and an average of 30 days paid vacation shows it's possible to have a people-environmentally friendly economy and to compete globally. Relative to Americans Europeans have improved their quality of life in health, leisure, equality, savings and sustainability the last quarter of the 20th century. While producing 70 percent as many goods and services Europeans require half the energy consumption per capita of Americans. The average American has an ecological footprint of 24 acres while Europeans have an average of 12 acres. Americans spend twice as much on health care as Europe yet we're at the bottom of the health indicators.
There are other hard-hitting essays by a diverse collection of writers in “Less is More.”
Bill McKibben makes a compelling case for a mature economy. He says the notion that a market economy needs to grow in order to be successful is false - most people are no longer getting wealthier; oil a non-renewable resource is a one-time gift that underwrote the one-time binge of economic growth in America and other countries. Because most of the world is aiming for an economy like America's it is not just oil that will run out it's also the food and natural resources for the growing populations and economies of the other countries. Among his solutions for a sustainable economy McKibben recommends the U.S. remove subsidies from agribusiness and use them to promote farmer entrepreneurs and underwrite the cost of windmills with money now going to protect oil flows.
Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room MD decided to preach and teach full-time about faith and the environment when his patient, an eight-year-old girl, died from an asthma attack due to air pollution. He said he was chief of staff and head of the emergency department when God called him to a creation care ministry. He said in “Why People of Faith Must Care for the Planet,” “I enjoyed my job, my colleagues, my expensive home, my fast car and my big paycheck. I have since given up every one of these things.” He and his family now live in a tiny house and use less than one-third of the fossil fuels and one-quarter of the electricity they once used. He says they are a poster family for the downwardly mobile.
David Wann in, “Why Isn't This Empire Sustainable?” asks why we place more value on convenience, size and speed than on the well-being of living things and why so many of us are willing to die for our country but are afraid to live moderately and unselfishly?
John E. Wear Jr.'s message in “Creating the Educational Foundations for Change” is to create centers as a catalyst for positive change. One of his successful initiatives demonstrated the true value of tree resources in the community.
“Less is More” shows how to divest gradually, to live more in the present while still paying attention to our health, technology, politics, economy and the environment. Simple solutions include changing our belief of “every man for himself” to “we're all in this together.” Cultivating an ethic centered on moderation and efficiency.
Stopping our children from developing “nature deficit disorder” by building parks where they can wander among woods and other greenery.
Focusing on resource efficiency in all new construction. A finite planet cannot sustain infinite growth. The days of unlimited fuels, raw material and land are over.
Responding to global shortages of oil, water and other resources by making water conservation and energy independence a national priority.
These authors powerfully illustrate how life with less can be MORE. How less stuff, less work, less stress, less debt can lead to more time, more satisfaction, more balance and more security.
Ultimately what's good for the pocket book is good for the planet. A simpler, less cluttered life connects us with our true source of happiness – a deeper more loving and caring relationship with ourselves, family, friends, community, nature, the planet, cosmos and Higher Power.