Local Book Reading: Enough is Enough: Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill Take on a Flailing Economy

Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources by Corvallis author Rob Dietz (and co-author Dan O’Neill) may be the most important book you’ll read in2013, if not the next decade. It offers a practical and positive solution to the economic system of greed, want, and blind growth that has cast the next decade, and all following, into such serious peril.

Enough Is Enough dismembers the essentially illogical, distressingly persistent, and ultimately dangerous idea of an economic system based on perpetual growth. This isn’t a new criticism—as Dietz points out, John Maynard Keynes and John Stuart Mill found the idea rather limited, so to speak—but nonetheless few of the alternative paradigms that have been proposed over the decades have seemed as achievable as Dietz’s description of a steady state economy.

A steady state economy is simple, really: it’s an economy where the goal is not more but enough. A steady state economy does not undermine the life-support services of the planet; it’s not invested in short-term profits at the cost of long-term well-being. A steady state economy aims for stable or mildly fluctuating levels in population and consumption of energy and materials—birth rates equal death rates, and production rates equal depreciation rates. Such an economic system would allow society to “focus on ends (happiness and well-being, for example) rather than means (economic growth and individual pursuit of profit).” Instead of “overconsumption, congestion, sprawl, and unfair trade practices,” we have “community, relationships, sufficient consumption, and the things that really matter in life.”

This isn’t dreamy idealism. Enough Is Enough is delivered in three acts, each marked by pragmatism. Act I walks us through the concept of “enoughness” and details the potential benefits of a steady state economy. Act II delves into the steady state economy in more detail, with a focus on limiting resource use and waste production, stabilizing population, distributing income and wealth, reforming financial systems, changing the way we measure progress, securing meaningful jobs, and rethinking commerce. Act III lays out a roadmap for achieving these goals: changing consumer behavior; engaging politicians and the media; changing national goals and improving international cooperation; and, finally, taking action.

What struck me about Enough Is Enough—besides the practical ideas, the specific strategies, the lucid and well-reasoned arguments, the engaging clarity of the prose, the fact that though in general I’d rather chew glass shards than read about economics I both understood and thoroughly enjoyed this book—was the refreshing optimism infused in the pages.

Perhaps this is only in contrast to most other books of this ilk, which seem to wallow in the familiar litanies of environmental and social degradation before tacking on a not fully developed or simply not realistic strategy for change. This tendency toward despair may owe to the strength of the status quo, or to an unsettling lack of vision or purpose or strength or organization by those who wish for a differing world; regardless, Dietz and O’Neill have infused their work with humor and hope.

They do this without underestimating the power of the status quo, but by trusting in the beautifully simple yet powerfully revolutionary concept of being content with enough. We need to trust in such a revolution, as well.

Rob Dietz will be reading from and signing Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at First Alternative Co-op, South Store Meeting Room, 1007 SE 3rd Street, Corvallis. The event is free. Books will be available for sale ($19.95); the first $5,000 in royalties goes directly to Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE).

by Nathaniel Brodie