Enough is Enough – a book I’ve just read about building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources – was both inspirational and depressing. Inspirational because it fuelled my suspicion that an alternative economic paradigm and way of living in the world really is possible. Depressing because when I looked up from its pages, a full realisation of those possibilities seemed a billion miles away.
The premise of this book is that people and the planet are in real trouble – extreme poverty, climate disaster, excessive debt, an inequitable distribution of wealth, and so on – and that an economy which perpetually chases increasing production and consumption stands no chance of achieving a lasting prosperity. “Now,” it contends, “is the time to change the goal from the madness of more to the ethic of enough”.
What I loved about this book was its vision for how things could be different. Through the concept of a ‘steady-state economy’ (the limits of whose somewhat dull name the book addresses), it paints a picture of a global economy with sustainable scale, fair distribution and efficient allocation, all leading to a high quality of life for every citizen.
Come with me on this one. Enough is Enough is not just for trained economists, academics or idealistic theorists; it is for anyone who wants to engage with the way the world works and how to pursue flourishing within it. This is not my field, but I was delighted that a book discussing monetary systems, resource use and investment, labour productivity, commerce, consumer behaviour, population stabilization, and other big topics that risk making me disconnect and go hazy, could not only hold my attention but enable me to understand and keep reading.
Enough is Enough manages to do this through well-structured chapters, accessible language and stories which brings abstract topics to life. Full of evidence, examples and explanations, it scrutinises and questions the workings of the world. How could money could be created and invested differently? How could different indicators of wellbeing replace our default to GDP? How could business models shift to generate not just goods and services but social and environmental value? How could we all live more ‘outwardly simple, yet inwardly rich’ lives by focusing less on the things that money can buy and more on the things it can’t? Through the illustration of alternatives, it suddenly seemed feasible that the value of ‘enough’ could be built into our institutions and cultures.
At both the macro and micro level, there’s something about this that makes my heart sing. Something which resonates with my hope for a new heaven and a new earth, and for restoration, reconciliation and renewal. Something aligned with my belief in an alternative world order, lifestyle, and Kingdom which subvert the status quo.
Making this a reality, the book concedes, will require work because we’d need to change values, overcome entrenched interests, and get the word out. That’s what got me down. I’ve had too many imagination-crushing conversations which make me think that difference will never come to pass. Even in the church where surely this stuff should be lapped up, I’ve despaired at the unspoken assumption that capitalism as we know it, and the establishment as it stands, are the only viable frameworks within which to operate.
For, as the book’s forward suggests, ‘enough’ should not only be seen as the central concept in economics but as a central theme in the story of God’s gift of manna, wrapped up in ‘the condition of enough – sufficiency and sharing – an idea later amplified in the Lord’s prayer, “give us this day our daily bread” […] enough bread to sustain and enjoy fully the gift of life itself’.
It’s this concept of sustainable and enjoyable life, of a mindful society in which people are more attuned to where they live and what they are doing, which is elaborated throughout Enough is Enough. It is a beautiful, albeit occasionally utopian, image, but one – the book contends – which is feasible to pursue in spite of the difficulties that will be encountered along the way. ‘Walking in a different direction from the rest of society is a challenging thing to do,’ it reminds us. ‘Belief in an unpopular idea, even if it’s true, can be an isolating experience’; surely this is something that anyone who already coexists in the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ can identify with only too readily.
The authors conclude with this same tone of hopeful pragmatism. ‘We began writing this book because we wanted to know how a steady-state economy would work in practice, and how the world might transition to one. We wanted to better understand how future generations could flourish within the capacity of the planet. Along the way, we have come increasingly hopeful about the possibilities. We don’t want to sugarcoat the difficulty of shifting to a stead-state economy – it’s likely to be a tough transition – but the destination is well worth the journey. Once society can put aside its obsession with economic growth, the stage will be set for achieving prosperity over the long run.’
Believing that the destination is indeed worth the journey, I’d encourage you to get your hands on Enough is Enough and get your head and heart around what it’s saying. Although I’m sure you’ll all respond in different ways to its proposals for institutional, political, personal, economic, environmental and societal change, it offers a credible and robust handbook of alternative ideas which are worth grappling with if we are genuinely committed to being content with enough and serious about seeing human flourishing within a flourishing planet as being of more value than a perpetual pursuit of economic growth.
What do you reckon?
(This post was originally published here on Breathe Network’s blog)