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Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future [Paperback]

by Bill McKibben
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Challenging the prevailing wisdom that the goal of economies should be unlimited growth, McKibben (The End of Nature) argues that the world doesn't have enough natural resources to sustain endless economic expansion. For example, if the Chinese owned cars in the same numbers as Americans, there would be 1.1 billion more vehicles on the road—untenable in a world that is rapidly running out of oil and clean air. Drawing the phrase "deep economy" from the expression "deep ecology," a term environmentalists use to signify new ways of thinking about the environment, he suggests we need to explore new economic ideas. Rather then promoting accelerated cycles of economic expansion—a mindset that has brought the world to the brink of environmental disaster—we should concentrate on creating localized economies: community-scale power systems instead of huge centralized power plants; cohousing communities instead of sprawling suburbs. He gives examples of promising ventures of this type, such as a community-supported farm in Vermont and a community biosphere reserve, or large national park–like area, in Himalayan India, but some of the ideas—local currencies as supplements to national money, for example—seem overly optimistic. Nevertheless, McKibben's proposals for new, less growth-centered ways of thinking about economics are intriguing, and offer hope that change is possible. (Mar. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

In offering straightforward solutions to the looming environmental crisis, Bill McKibben has marched directly into the middle of a heated debate. Critics' personal beliefs and politics shaped their reviews, which described Deep Economy as, alternately, a "masterfully crafted, deeply thoughtful and mind-expanding treatise" (Los Angeles Times) and a "book-length sermon on what is wrong with the way we live" (San Francisco Chronicle). Some reviewers found McKibben's solutions practical and the author refreshingly unpretentious, while others considered his vision utopian and his attitude self-righteous. However, they did agree that McKibben writes compellingly—with warmth, sincerity, and a sharp sense of humor. His resolute hope for the future will resound with readers no matter where their loyalties lie. But will it change any minds?

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Beginning with his prescient treatise on global warming, The End of Nature (1990), McKibben has been investigating and elucidating some of the most confounding aspects of our lives. He now brings his signature clarity of thought and handsomely crafted prose to a pivotal, complicated subject, the negative consequences of our growth-oriented economy. McKibben incisively interprets a staggering array of studies that document the symbiotic relationship between fossil fuels and five decades of dizzying economic growth, and the many ways the pursuit of ever-higher corporate profits has led to environmental havoc and neglect of people's most basic needs. At once reportorial, philosophic, and anecdotal, McKibben, intoning the mantra "more is not better," takes measure of diminishing returns. With eroding security, a dysfunctional health system, floundering public schools, higher rates of depression, "wild inequity" in the distribution of wealth, and damage to the biosphere, McKibben believes a new paradigm is needed, that of a "deep economy" born of sustainable and sustaining communities anchored in local resources. Using the farmer's market as a template, he explains the logistics of workable alternatives to the corporate imperative based on ecological capacities and the "economics of neighborliness." With the threat of energy crises and global warming, McKibben's vision of nurturing communities rooted in traditional values and driven by "green" technologies, however utopian, may provide ideas for constructive change. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"I'd like to see Deep Economy read in every Econ 101 class. Bill McKibben asks the central human question: What is the economy for? The stakes here are terrifyingly high, but with his genial style and fascinating examples of alternative approaches, McKibben convinces me that economics is anything but dismal—if only we can learn to do it right!"—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
 
"The cult of growth and globalization has seldom been so effectively challenged as by Bill McKibben in Deep Economy. But this bracing tonic of a book also throws the bright light of McKibben's matchless journalism on the vibrant local economies now springing up like mushrooms in the shadow of globalization. Deep Economy fills you with a hope and a sense of fresh possibility."—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma
 
"How is our nation going to cope with global warming, peak oil, inequality, and a growing sense of isolation? Bill McKibben provides the simple but brilliant answer the economists have missed—we need to create 'depth' through local interdependence and sustainable use of resources. I will be requiring this inspiring book for my students, and passionately recommending it to everyone else I know."—Juliet Schor, professor of sociology, Boston College, and author of The Overspent American
 
"Bill McKibben works on the frontiers of new understandings and returns with his startling and lucid revelations of the possible future. A saner human-scale world does exist—just over the horizon—and McKibben introduces us to the people and ideas leading us there."—William Greider, author of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy
 
"Masterfully crafted, deeply thoughtful and mind-expanding. . . . An incisive critique of the unintended consequences of our…growth-oriented economy.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“A hopeful manifesto.”—Boston Globe
 
"What makes McKibben's book stand out is the completeness of his arguments and his real-world approach to solutions."—USA Today
 
“McKibben is a fitting prophet… [His] dexterity as a keen observer and stellar wordsmith makes Deep Economy well worth reading.”—The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
 
“Wise and…optimistic.”—The Courier-Journal of Louisville
 
“McKibben’s proposals for new, less growth-centered ways of thinking about economics are intriguing, and offer hope that change is possible.”—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
 
“[McKibben] ably argues [that] growth has increased inequality and decreased human happiness.”—Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including The End of Nature, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, and Deep Economy. A former staff writer for The New Yorker, he writes regularly for Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Review of Books, among other publications. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and lives in Vermont with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, and their daughter.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction

For most of human history, the two birds More and Better roosted on the same branch. You could toss one stone and hope to hit them both. That’s why the centuries since Adam Smith have been devoted to the dogged pursuit of maximum economic production. The idea that individuals, pursuing their own individual interests in a market society, make one another richer and the idea that increasing efficiency, usually by increasing scale, is the key to increasing wealth has indisputably produced More. It has built the unprecedented prosperity and ease that distinguish the lives of most of the people reading this book. It is no wonder and no accident that they dominate our politics, our outlook, even our personalities.

But the distinguishing feature of our moment is this: Better has flown a few trees over to make her nest. That changes everything. Now, if you’ve got the stone of your own life, or your own society, gripped in your hand, you have to choose between them. It’s More or Better.

Some of the argument I’ll make in these pages will seem familiar: growth is no longer making most people wealthier, but instead generating inequality and insecurity. And growth is bumping against physical limits so profound—like climate change and peak oil—that continuing to expand the economy may be impossible; the very attempt may be dangerous. But there’s something else too, a wild card we’re just now beginning to understand: new research from many quarters has started to show that even when growth does make us wealthier, the greater wealth no longer makes us happier.

Taken together, these facts show that we need to make a basic shift. Given all that we now know about topics ranging from the molecular structure of carbon dioxide to the psychology of human satisfaction, we need to move decisively to rebuild our local economies. These may well yield less stuff, but they produce richer relationships; they may grow less quickly, if at all, but they make up for it in durability.

Shifting our focus to local economies will not mean abandoning Adam Smith or doing away with markets. Markets, obviously, work. Building a local economy will mean, however, ceasing to worship markets as infallible and consciously setting limits on their scope. We will need to downplay efficiency and pay attention to other goals. We will have to make the biggest changes to our daily habits in generations—and the biggest change, as well, to our worldview, our sense of what constitutes progress.

Such a shift is neither “liberal” nor “conservative.” It borrows some elements from our reigning political philosophies, and is in some ways repugnant to each. Mostly, it’s different. The key questions will change from whether the economy produces an ever larger pile of stuff to whether it builds or undermines community—for community, it turns out, is the key to physical survival in our environmental predicament and also to human satisfaction. Our exaltation of the individual, which was the key to More, has passed the point of diminishing returns. It now masks a deeper economy that we should no longer ignore.

In choosing the phrase “deep economy,” I have sought to echo the insistence, a generation ago, of some environmentalists that instead of simply one more set of smokestack filters or one more set of smokestack laws, we needed a “deep ecology” that asked more profound questions about the choices people make in their daily lives. Their point seems more valid by the month in our overheating world. We need a similar shift in our thinking about economics—we need it to take human satisfaction and societal durability more seriously; we need economics to mature as a discipline.

This shift will not come easily, of course. Focusing on economic growth, and assuming it would produce a better world, was extremely convenient; it let us stop thinking about ends and concentrate on means. It made economics as we know it now—a science of means—extraordinarily powerful. We could always choose our path by fixing our compass on More; we could rely on economists, skilled at removing the obstacles to growth, to act as guides through the wilderness. Alan Greenspan was the wisest of wise men.

But even as that idea of the world reigns supreme, with the rubble of the Iron Curtain at its feet as deserved proof of its power, change is bubbling up from underneath. You have to look, but it’s definitely there. A single farmers’ market, for instance, may not seem very important compared to a Wal-Mart, but farmers’ markets are the fastest-growing part of our food economy. They’ve doubled in number and in sales and then doubled again in the last decade, suggesting new possibilities for everything from land use patterns to community identity. Similar experiments are cropping up in many other parts of the economy and in many other places around the world, driven not by government fiat but by local desire and necessity. That desire and necessity form the scaffolding on which this new, deeper economy will be built, in pieces and from below. It’s a quiet revolution begun by ordinary people with the stuff of our daily lives. Eventually it will take form as legislation, but for now its most important work is simply to crack the consensus that what we need is More.

A word of caution, however. It’s easy for those of us who already have a lot to get carried away with this kind of thinking. Recently I was on a reporting trip to China, where I met a twelve-year-old girl named Zhao Lin Tao, who was the same age as my daughter and who lived in a poor rural village in Sichuan province—that is, she’s about the most statistically average person on earth. Zhao was the one person in her crowded village I could talk to without an interpreter: she was proudly speaking the pretty good English she’d learned in the overcrowded village school. When I asked her about her life, though, she was soon in tears: her mother had gone to the city to work in a factory and never returned, abandoning her and her sister to their father, who beat them regularly because they were not boys. Because Zhao’s mother was away, the authorities were taking care of her school fees until ninth grade, but after that there would be no money to pay. Her sister had already given up and dropped out. In Zhao’s world, in other words, it’s perfectly plausible that More and Better still share a nest. Any solution we consider has to contain some answer for her tears. Her story hovers over this whole enterprise. She’s a potent reality check.

And in the end it’s reality I want to deal with—the reality of what our world can provide, the reality of what we actually want. The old realism—an endless More—is morphing into a dangerous fantasy. (Consider: if the Chinese owned cars in the same numbers as Americans, the world would have more than twice as many vehicles as it now does.) In the face of energy shortage, of global warming, and of the vague but growing sense that we are not as alive and connected as we want to be, I think we’ve started to grope for what might come next. And just in time.
 
Copyright © 2007 by Bill McKibben. All rights reserved.
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