At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novelÂ Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, â€œYes, but I have something he will never have â€¦ enough.â€
On a macro level re-gearing the machine that is the modern economy to a more sustainable model requires many changes, not the least of which is the valuation of the cost of resource depletion, in investment models – â€œvaluing the externalities,â€ so that appropriate and honest comparisons can be made between, for example, the cost of clean energy and the cost of dirty fossil energy.
However it is also a reality that as consumers we simply must re-consider the concept of enough. This is tremendously difficult in a world in which we are all exposed to the constant mantra that growth (ie more consumption), is the only way out of the hole. The retail figures are up they cry, and the markets start to settle and the cycle begins again. But weâ€™re munching relentlessly through the worldâ€™s finite resources at the very same timeâ€¦â€¦
Until we are really in tune with the concept of enough (and I confess that I probably find this more difficult than many), Iâ€™m not sure a truly sustainable model is an option in the developed world.
Herman Daly at CASSE – the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy – a former World Bank economist, and the father of the alternative to growth economic model – is a recommended read:Â http://steadystate.org
In an earlier post I quoted Japanese design and retail company Mujiâ€™s philosophy. Itâ€™s worth requoting here:
MUJI is not a brand. MUJI does not make products of individuality or fashion, nor does MUJI reflect the popularity of its name in its prices. MUJI creates products with a view toward global consumption of the future. This means that we do not create products that lure customers into believing that â€œthis is bestâ€ or â€œI must have this.â€ We would like our customers to feel the rational sense of satisfaction that comes not with â€œThis is best,â€ but with â€œthis is enoughâ€. â€œBestâ€ becomes â€œenoughâ€.
There are degrees of â€œenough,â€ however. MUJI aims to raise the standard of â€œenoughâ€ to the greatest extent possible. â€œBestâ€ contains a faint amount of egoism and disharmony, but in â€œenoughâ€ we sense restraint and compromise. On the other hand, â€œenoughâ€ might contain a sense of resignation and a slight amount of dissatisfaction. So by raising the bar of what denotes â€œenough,â€ we cast away that resignation and slight dissatisfaction; we create a new dimension of â€œenoughâ€ to attain a clear and heart-felt â€œThis is enough.â€ That is MUJIâ€™s vision.