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Ch. 1 - After Growth 
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Post Ch. 1 - After Growth
Ch. 1 - After Growth


Please use this thread for discussing the 1st chapter of Deep Economy, which is entitled After Growth. If you would rather create your own threads feel free to do so. :) These chapter threads are only meant as a convenient structure for those members that appreciate or enjoy a structured book discussion. ::44




Fri Apr 06, 2007 11:55 pm
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Post More is not always Better
Mckibben argues that our current economic system is destructively fixated on growth. He describes three fundamental challenges to the dominant paradigm that "more is better":

1. Political: economic growth, at least as we now create it, is producing more insecurity/instability than progress.

2. Physics/Chemistry: we do not have the energy needed to continue growing and neither do we have the space to store the resultant pollutants.

3. Psychological: this unprecedented economic growth is not making us happier.

Even with all of this stuff, we have relatively little to show for it; our planet can not sustain the process; and it really doesn't make us any happier after all. Ulitmately, McKibben argues, we can no longer reduce the essence of our economic decision making to: what course of action will bring me more?

Thus the title, Deep Economy (taken from the environmentalist movement Deep Ecology ) as an attempt to ask beyond the surface of mere accumulation and delve deeper into the values and meaning that motivate everyday choices of production and consumption. Deep Economy is one way to envision an economic system that takes seriously the combination of human satisfaction, social durability and ecological sustainability.




Mon Apr 09, 2007 11:15 am
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Post Re: More is not always Better
Still waiting on my book. [have distinct feelings of bookal envy]

But can't help think that a good companion volume to this discussion might be Alain de Botton's book Status Anxiety. In it, he tries to address the root causes of our need for more, our need to be bigger than we are...and ways of overcoming that need.

"All beings are the owners of their deeds, the heirs to their deeds."

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Mon Apr 09, 2007 2:11 pm
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Post Re: More is not always Better
I also saw this today and it interested me.

Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole

I presented the idea a while back to have "TOPIC" discussions, as opposed to sinlge book discussions...this way we can bring different opinions in to the mix and people who might have other sources would feel more inclined to participate even if they do not like a particular book choice.

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Edited by: misterpessimistic  at: 4/9/07 3:43 pm



Mon Apr 09, 2007 2:43 pm
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Post Re: More is not always Better
Mr. P -- I'm with you. I think this book discussion is going to be more about where the book leads us than the book itself.

Ooo...as discussion leader, do I get to make these kinds of executive decisions?!? ::59

I say let's go ahead, and post to the chapters, but also to over-arching themes as they come up.

Power. I love it! ::04

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Mon Apr 09, 2007 11:30 pm
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Post Re: More is not always Better
I suppose each participant gets to decide how they wish to participate. We have the chapter threads simply as a guideline, but it is completely acceptable to branch off and create side discussions about anything related to the book. Nobody should feel obligated to remain within the chapter thread structure.




Tue Apr 10, 2007 9:51 am
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Post Re: More is not always Better
loricat: Alain de Botton's book Status Anxiety. In it, he tries to address the root causes of our need for more, our need to be bigger than we are...and ways of overcoming that need.

Making sense of the eco-damaging and self-destructive drive for more is certainly key to McKiben's book. McKibben asks
Quote:
On the list of important mistakes we've made as a species, this one seems pretty high up. A single minded focus on increasing wealth has driven the planet's ecological systems to the brink of failure, without making us happier. How did we screw up? (p.42)


He does not answer by highlighting human greed, vanity, penchant for gluttony or disregard for the welfare of others...instead he says, "we kept doing something past the point where it worked. Since happiness increased with income in the past, we assumed it would do so in the future."

Americans and Europeans at the time of Adam Smith had it pretty darned rough when procuring basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, literacy...the more of these the better was life; their absence equaled squalor, misery and poverty. McKibben says, "Is it any wonder, then, that we built a considerable velocity trying to escape the gravitational pull of that kind of poverty?"

In other words, our economic drive for more is so potent because it has worked so well...now, it is out of control, travelling along a trajectory that spells ecological disaster, social anome and personal despair.

It's like the person who rationalizes that if two prescribed pills will make him feel better, then four will make him feel great.

Mr. P, I heard a discussion about Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole on NPR yesterday morning. McKibben is not making an argument against markets, but he is challenging the dominant economic model that, as he says "worships markets as infallible". We need to "consciously limit their scope" and "downplay efficiency and pay attention to other goals." I am looking forward to his examination of regional, local economies that draw upon the farmer's market model. Still, I think the Consumed piece you mention could provide a strong support to the ways that McKibben describes our current drive for more as not increasing happiness.

Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 4/10/07 12:58 pm



Tue Apr 10, 2007 10:49 am
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Post Re: More is not always Better
Chris: I suppose each participant gets to decide how they wish to participate. We have the chapter threads simply as a guideline, but it is completely acceptable to branch off and create side discussions about anything related to the book. Nobody should feel obligated to remain within the chapter thread structure.

I think one only has to look at last quarter's discussion of The God Delusion to see that these conversations can't be pigeonholed anyway.

I'm going to be ordering my book tomorrow so I'll probably be joining the discussion later, after I've received it and read it. I'm going to be away from my computer for a while, anyway. I'll have to catch up with this down the road.

George

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Tue Apr 10, 2007 6:27 pm
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Post Re: More is not always Better
In this chapter McKibbin writes: "the men and women at the center of our economic and political lives have not treated climate change as anything more than another problem to be dealt with as we've dealt with problems in the past; certainly they don't perceive it as something that would call into question the doctrine of endless economic expansion" (24, emphasis mine). He cites liberals who "question not expansion but only the way that the new money is spread around," and how "the Democratic party and the union movement typically demand even faster growth." Essentially, wherever you stand along the economic divide, from CEO to labor, we're all equally "intellectually invested in the current system" (14).

I wonder what kind of economic and political platform could emerge, within an industrialized, Western nation, which questions economic growth. Could a politician develop a successful campaign where she espouses decelerated economic growth? To me, it (a campaign based on decelerated economic growth, not necessarily the deceleration itself) sounds like a ludicrous idea. She wouldn't get anywhere. Which illustrates McKibbin's point that



Fri Apr 13, 2007 2:05 pm
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Post Re: More is not always Better
irishrose: I wonder what kind of economic and political platform could emerge, within an industrialized, Western nation, which questions economic growth.

If we were lucky, one that alligned its values and aspirations with the best of climate change science and the demands of ecological sustainability.

irishrose: who sees McKibbin's premise as something that needs to be seriously considered and examined, and who thinks it's crazy to question the virtues of economic expansion?

I think McKibben's thesis (more does not inevitably lead to better, and can actually lead to economic disparity, social anome, and ecological devastation) is certainly worthy of careful scrutiny and consideration. I think crazy involves the continued pursuit of a course of action, thinking that it will eventually produce different results. Encouraging the virtues of economic expansion (along US trajectories) in China and India is crazy. Actually, I think another title for Mckibben's book could have been (pace Dawkins) The Economic Expansion Delusion.

irishrose: I don't know whether or not we are less happy now



Sat Apr 14, 2007 10:49 am
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Post Re: More is not always Better
Quote:
He does not answer by highlighting human greed, vanity, penchant for gluttony or disregard for the welfare of others...instead he says, "we kept doing something past the point where it worked. Since happiness increased with income in the past, we assumed it would do so in the future."


I do believe greed, vanity, disregard for the welfare of others and so on are very much part of human nature (Dawkins would surely agree



Mon Apr 16, 2007 1:22 pm
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Post Re: Growth through fair income distribution
The first chapter of the book impressed me. I was afraid that this book would be a tiresome leftist diatribe (despite being a lefty myself). However, McKibben calmly makes a convincing case that the traditional economic goal of maximizing the GNP is flawed:

1) Most of the increased wealth of the last few decades as gone to the richest segment of society.
2) The environment has suffered enormous damage, largely as a response to the growing economy.
3) Getting richer doesn't make people happier.

I agree with 1) completely, and the "rich getting richer" aspect of the US economy has bothered me since I was a teenager.

Item 2) has become increasingly clear, especially in the context of global warming. At a visceral level, human needs such as people lacking medical care, concern me more than environmental issues, such as forests being chopped down. However, global environmental damage has a massive human impact that will get worse in the future.

Now, 3) is more discussion-worthy, because it's less known and intuitive. I've read about Kahnemen and Tversky's work elsewhere, and it's really cool stuff. Health, friendships, and relationships have exerted a much stronger impact on my quality of life than financial well-being.

However, I'm not totally convinced. Even though high-priced consumer goods don't generate happiness, high-quality medical care, though expensive, is really important. McKibben's $10,000 demarcation doesn't seem quite right.




Fri Apr 20, 2007 7:09 am
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Post Re: Growth through fair income distribution
Mad: And incidentally, welcome to Raul. Based on his contributions to this thread, I'd say he's likely to make a welcome addition to BookTalk.

Ditto! ::80

Mad: "Growth" is to endemic a part of the structure of the system, and it's bound to arise as a logical conclusion or an impetus to political and social action.

So, if politically, we're 'stuck' with the concept of growth, perhaps the goal should be to change the definition of growth. I'm a little heartened by some of McKibben's discussion -- the Nordhaus quote on page 25 from as late as the 1990s compared to what someone would say today about the impact of climate change on the economy shows me that rather radical change in attitude is possible on society as a whole.

Perhaps what's needed to the idea of 'growth' is similar to the architectural/city planning concept of 'in-fill' -- increasing density and mulitiple uses of land & space. I think 'economic growth' needs some 'in-fill': define successful growth as something that increases the bottom line without damaging the socio-environmental foundation of one's company.

Just a thought.

Julian: Now, 3) is more discussion-worthy, because it's less known and intuitive. I've read about Kahnemen and Tversky's work elsewhere, and it's really cool stuff. Health, friendships, and relationships have exerted a much stronger impact on my quality of life than financial well-being.

Again, I'm going to mention Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety...which in many ways is a companion piece to this one (Here's a quote from buy.com):

Quote:
"Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first--the story of our quest for sexual love--is well known and well charted. . . . The second--the story of our quest for love from the world--is a more secret and shameful tale. And yet this second love story is no less intense than the first."
This is a book about an almost universal anxiety that rarely gets mentioned directly: an anxiety about what others think of us, about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. This is a book about status anxiety.
Alain de Botton, best-selling author of "The Consolations of Philosophy and "The Art of Travel, asks--with lucidity and charm--where our worries about status come from and what, if anything, we can do to surmount them. With the help of philosophers, artists and writers, he examines the origins of status anxiety (ranging from the consequences of the French Revolution to our secret dismay at the success of our friends) before revealing ingenious ways in which people have been able to overcome their worries in the search for happiness. We learn about sandal-less philosophers and topless bohemians, about the benefits of putting skulls on our sideboards, and about looking at ancient ruins.
The result is a book that isn't just highly entertaining and thought-provoking, but that is genuinely wise and helpful, too.


Cheers,

Lori

"All beings are the owners of their deeds, the heirs to their deeds."

Loricat's Book Nook
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Sun Apr 22, 2007 2:32 pm
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Post Re: Growth through fair income distribution
Loricat: So, if politically, we're 'stuck' with the concept of growth, perhaps the goal should be to change the definition of growth.

That may be possible. Presumably, there is some flexibility to the way that we operate, although, I'd say that our mode of operation is less flexible than our conception of what is suitable material for those operations. That is to say, we're not likely to alter our consumption of some energy source, because the structure of our society is bound up with the activity of consuming, but it may be possible to change what energy source it is we consume. And you can see the attitudes of industrialized populations changing along those lines -- we aren't really rethinking energy consumption itself, but we are considering using, say, fusion or biodiesel rather than fossil fuels.

That sort of change seems to me like throwing in a step forward for every several steps back. By changing energy sources, we may stave off the collapse that a particular rate of consumption makes inevitable, but only for so much longer.

I think 'economic growth' needs some 'in-fill': define successful growth as something that increases the bottom line without damaging the socio-environmental foundation of one's company.

I'm not sure how you would popularize that idea. It seems to me that, structurally speaking, industrialized economy is heavily invested in the Cartesian ideology of controlling and transforming the natural world in order to serve human ends. So long as that remains the operable ideological assumption behind economic practice (as opposed to theory), there is probably a very limited range of alternative modes of production and exchange that society is willing to embrace.




Mon Apr 23, 2007 6:16 pm
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Post Re: More is not always Better
Raul: given that we, human beings, seem to be only capable of thinking in selfish (materialistic) terms, he tries to show by argument that the course we are taking puts us on the losing side: we are destroying our own shelter, we are depleting our food (and drink) sources and on top of that we are showing a sadder and sadder face.

I don't think McKibben endorses such a hardline regarding the selfish propensities of human nature. I think he is arguing that our disregard for the welfare of the planet and others is not because we are inherently selfish, but because of our ignorance of alternative ways to live. Tied to this ignorance is a lot of bad habits that are undoubtedly difficult to break. I think McKibben will explore notions of Self and Community more thoroughly in his cahpter "All for One, One for All". I think McKibben argues that with more choices, local engagement and better information, humans can live healthier, happier lives in closer allignment with ecological necessities.

loricat: To tell those countries they can't have the trappings of wealth because we've already botched up the whole world enough for everyone -- we need to be able to give them real options.

I think this is an important point, but regardless of who has caused the most damage, none of us can afford to repeat or continue the mistakes made by those of us in US. We certainly don't carry a lot of credibility in the discussion (similiar to our demand that some nations reject any attempts at arming themselves with nuclear weapons). I think one important set of options we can give them is exchange in renewal energy technologies: imagine if our nations could begin a student exchange process where information regarding solar heating, bio-diesel fuel, local cooperative farming, wtaer recycling and purfication, organic livestock, was experimented across the planet and this new knowledge was shared and disseminated as vital policy making material?

Julian: At a visceral level, human needs such as people lacking medical care, concern me more than environmental issues, such as forests being chopped down. However, global environmental damage has a massive human impact that will get worse in the future.

It does seem like lack of medical care is a separate issue from environmental issues, but they are intimately connected. Moreso than the explicit damage that will be inflicted on human health by increasing environmental damage...is the current health disaster that results from our use of pesticides and chemicals in our agricultural and meat/livestock processing. Add to this the tens of thousands of pounds of pollutants poured into the air daily from the multitudes of industrial smokestacks across the nation...and their runoff into streams, rivers and water supplies with lead and mercury poisons (among many others). And, consider the psychological stress factor that impacts the millions of Americans stuck in rush hour traffic day in and day out...and the continual loss of wildlife habitat replaced by strip malls, asphalt, and massive suburban developments...I think McKibben is making a strong case for a holistic understanding of what makes us healthier. How we relate to the planet is a mirror for how we relate to ourselves and each other.

MA: It seems to me that, structurally speaking, industrialized economy is heavily invested in the Cartesian ideology of controlling and transforming the natural world in order to serve human ends.

I think McKibben captures this point very well:
Quote:
"If fossil fuel is a slave at our beck and call, renewable power is more like a partner. As we shall eventually see, that partnership could be immensely rewarding for people and communities, but can it power economic grwoth of the kind we are used to?" p.17


If we are to transform our economy into something that creates more wealth for more people, is in accord with ecological necessities, fosters greater communal solidarity, and increases individual happiness...we can no longer view the natural world as something separate, apart from, and simply subject to our appetites and desires.

I think the rest of McKibben's book is precisely an attempt to show how this kind of transformation is not only possible, but necessary. I think his next chapter, The Year of Eating Locally, provides a hopeful view of how practical awareness and intentional choices around our daily bread can fundamentally shift the Cartesian ideology you mention above.






Tue Apr 24, 2007 10:47 am
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