books growth

Book review: Enough is Enough, by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill

In 2010 I took the train up to Leeds and joined Britain’s first Steady State Conference, organised by and Economic Justice for All. It was a conference that aimed to generate ideas rather than just talk at its attendees, and the series of workshops produced a big stack of possible policies for creating a steady state society. Dan O’Neill and Rob Dietz, who both spoke at the conference, took those ideas away with them. First they were written up as a report, and three years later they form the basis of this book,

The great thing about Enough is that it picks up where many post growth books finish. Some authors spend their page count laying into the status quo and then sketch a vague alternative at the end, but not these ones. “The purpose of this book is to describe how to establish a prosperous yet non-growing economy” say Dietz and O’Neill. “This is not a book that focuses on the problems while relegating solutions to the last few pages.”

Theme by theme, the book works through aspects of the economy and society – finance, business, population, describing how things could be different. Each chapter is guided by three questions to keep it practical: What are we doing? What could we do instead? Where do we go from here?

There are many ideas that you may have encountered before, such as alternative currencies, reducing work hours, or the citizen’s income. Many more will be new. Importantly, the book includes a few things that are often overlooked in these sorts of debates, such as the developing world context and how different growth rates could be negotiated according to need. It also recognises that a major cultural shift is required, a change in values. That’s not so simple, it can only be a gradual reassessment of what we think is important. But the book has ideas here too, how consumerism can be undermined and a more cooperative ethic cultivated.

The book doesn’t cover everything. One outstanding problem that isn’t addressed is existing debt and how it can be repaid without growth. Without a massive debt write-off to clear the decks, debt repayments would take up a growing slice of expenditure in a shrinking economy. That’s not an unsurpassable obstacle to a steady state economy, but it’s something that post growth writers need to examine.

Still, Dietz and O’Neill have done the post growth movement a great service. Plenty of people can see the problems with the growth economy, but don’t have an alternative vision to fight for. There have been ideas out there, but only if you went looking for them. Now they’re in one place, and they’re useful ideas too – things that real citizens, businesses and governments can start on today, not utopian theories for an imaginary ideal world.

Enough is Enough shows that it is entirely possible to create “a better future where sustainable and equitable human well-being is the goal.” So read the gloomy book that dismantles growth economics. Then read this one. And then join us and get to work.

21 comments

  1. “a major cultural shift is required, a change in values.” I think this is the key point where I think the no growth/steady staters have their major problem.

    Any political or economic system that requires humanity to be different from how they are is going to fail. When someone says they want everyone else to focus on ‘what is really important’ they actually want everyone to focus on what that person thinks is important. The beauty of the free market capitalist system is that we don’t have to be angels. It works if we are selfish, it works if we are selfless and it works if we are a mixture of the two. We don’t need to be something other than the mass of contradictions that is being human.

    Other than that, nice to see another victim of the lump of labour fallacy.

    1. I’d suggest you read the book before you assume the authors are ignorant of the ‘lump of labour’ thing – their arguments are about wellbeing rather than redistribution of work.

      You’re also assuming (again) that somehow this is in opposition to market capitalism, which is isn’t.

      And you’re also being very pessimistic about cultural change – yesterday parliament voted to legalise gay marriage, something unimaginable 50 years ago. Cultural values change all the time, for better or worse. I agree that it’s a major obstacle, but it’s by no means impossible.

      1. Trouble is, that I don’t think its cultural values you need to change, but more innate human ones. Since I assume you eschew eugenics to breed a new humanity the idea we can voluntarily give up on growth is a false one.

        1. The desire for economic growth isn’t an innate part of humanity, certainly not the idea that it can be measured in GDP, that’s a thoroughly modern idea. Even the notion of progress itself is a relatively recent idea.

          We’ve chosen goals as a society, and we can choose different ones.

          1. The desire to have more, and to compete for status is pretty innate. It is just that for most of human history the economy couldn’t provide it for the vast majority of people.

            Revealed preference shows that people will work harder for more stuff. Its what they want.

  2. Yes Economists argue that our choices reveal what makes us most happy but the evidence suggests otherwise: our choices – ‘revealed preferences’ – do not always show what makes us happiest. Research shows clearly that individuals consistently mistake how much happier an increase in income will make them. So, we work too hard to bring in the extra income to consume more, but it makes us no happier. In the process we are left with less & less time to spend with our children, family & friends, exercise, engage in voluntary work, or to pursue recreational interests, which the evidence shows are some of the real sources of well-being.
    Quoted from New Economic Foundation 2004 “A well-being manifesto for a flourishing society”

    1. So if what our revealed preferences show, that we will work harder for more stuff, is a disappointment, why do we keep choosing it? Its not like we can’t step off the treadmill at pretty much any point of our 50 year working lives, but mostly we don’t. Now it could be that most people fit Einstein’s definition of insanity. Alternatively, following Occam’s Razor, that it does make them happier than not having the stuff.

    2. What makes us happy is interaction with other people, face to face.
      I’ll guess that most of your childhood friends and family don’t live near you and you probably don’t know your neighbors much.

  3. Of course people want to improve their lot and do better in life. The difference is that we have come to treat the increase of economic activity as a sensible measure of whether that’s happening or not. That’s nonsense for a whole variety of reasons, and there is absolutely nothing inherent about it.

    1. If its such nonsense, why do billions of people subscribe to it?

      Money is the best simple approximation for assessing status across groups that humanity has come up with. It ain’t perfect but better than its alternatives.

      1. We cannot practically choose to “step off” the treadmill, because everything in society is based upon it. It is not practical to factor out the monetary aspect of society (for most people) without reducing the material part of your life to a below minimum level.

        I think we can all recognize that the material aspects of life are important. The key thing in post-growth conversation is that they are not THE ONLY important aspect. And, after a certain level, increasing our material wealth does very little to increase our happiness. However, the tide is constantly raising, so it’s very difficult to get to that place AND step off the boat. Soon inflation and dwindling savings accounts force you back into a more common, material-based means of living.

        That said, there a tons of people out there finding ways to decouple themselves from the growth economy, and live a more intentional, well-being focused life – somewhat outside of the treadmill. Until the majority of the system shifts in this direction, this lifestyle will be largely unattainable by the poor and difficult for the “middle classes.”

        Money and monetary metrics are limited in their ability to assess our well-being and quality of life. It shouldn’t be the single thing we inspire to grow, and the only focus of our society.

      2. The fact that billions of people adhere to economic growth as the “right path” is not a meaningful argument. There are countless examples of concepts and systems humans up through history have praised and lived by, which turned out to be more or less wrong, even disastrous. Nazi Germany, Communism, slavery to mention a few. And these are things that many people, the masses, supported. But it was wrong all the same, and therefore we do not adhere to these ideologies and systems today. There is now accumulating more and more indications that the notion of economic growth as a goal for society is harmful in many ways. That is why we should change this.

        And what has status assessing got to do with the discussion on well-being? Societies that have large differences between people in terms of status are the ones with the highest prevalence of mental illnesses and lowest on well-being.

        1. Yes, and that doesn’t mean that a drive to growth was a bad idea when it was started. GDP was devised as a way to track the progress of the economy as it recovered after the Great Depression. It made sense then, and growth is still a legitimate aim in the poorest countries. In places where people already have more than enough, it is no longer necessary and even self-defeating.

        2. Those ideologies failed in their own terms. They did not provide the wealth for all they promised. Other competitor systems were better than them (USA and USSR were better at war than Nazi Germany, the USA and Western Europe were better at providing freedom and material well being than the USSR). There is no steady state competitor system to market capitalism in existence. There are ideas but no countries living that system to which we can compare ourselves. Now if one did exist and it did produce a system for living that most people here saw as better than their current lot then we would get a a Hegelian synthesis. But that would require more and more of the exponents of steady state/no-growth to actually choose to sacrifice some of the the material comforts they now enjoy and to accept the lower status the rest of the acquisitive society would accord them and live the life they wish to prescribe for the rest of us. The point is you need to provide an example for people to follow, not to force them into your personal system.

          Of course if we did have that competition it is possible that market capitalism will do what it did to Fascism and Communism and best it.

          As to what does status assessing got to do with well-being, you answer your own question. You say societies with large status differences have low well being. That makes status an important factor to consider. There will always be hierarchies and status within them, that is how humans are. Money has at least the advantage that it can be acquired by anyone regardless of race, gender age or physical talent.

  4. A steady-state economy is, basically, an economy that prioritizes enough over more. In a steady-state economy, resource consumption and population remain stable while well-being is prioritized over consumption. pnrlookup.in

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