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BK Blog Post
Posted by William Courtney.
CAL grad & former Berrett-Koehler intern. Looking to find fellow writers, sports enthusiasts, redditors, and people oozing with interesting stuff.
By the age of 30 Graham Hill sold an Internet design company for $10 million. He did what most people would do with all that extra money, he bought stuff and lots of it. Then something peculiar happened. He realized the stuff wasn’t bringing him happiness; rather it was bogging him down. He didn’t need all that stuff because in essence he had enough.
If this story sounds familiar, then you might have heard his TED Talk or heard the TED Radio Hour on NPR. In his talk, he explains how Americans have three times more space than they did in the 1950’s. Yet, people still don’t have enough room to store their stuff and have to resort to storage sheds, which is now a $20 billion a year industry in the United States.
Graham decided to cut back. He now lives in a 420 square foot apartment in New York City where he has enough room for a bed, office, and guests to stay the night. The place fits what he needs and nothing more (Video Below). In a way Graham said enough is enough.
Growing Economy, Flatlining Happiness?
I chose the above statistic on the rapid increase of Americans’ space because it reflects what is happening to our society, especially the economy. According to Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill in the new book Enough is Enough, economic growth is not always good. And no the previous statement is not a misprint. The growing economy is not making our society any happier. Dietz and O’Neill point out that happiness has actually flat lined since World War II.
Instead we should focus on a steady-state economy, one that isn’t focused on growth. Instead a steady-state economy finds a balance of built capital, population, and the amount of energy and material that go through a society.
Wait….. What is Enough?
When I first heard those words, they didn’t quite make sense. To understand their point better I actually looked up the definition of enough. Merriam-Webster defines it as: occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.
In a way the story of self and the story of society become linked. It’s hard for individuals to say enough space or enough stuff because consumption and growth is what our economy is driven on. At first that statement confused me, but maybe not for obvious reasons. First the idea of growth on an individual level is positive. We try to grow as people, as parents or spouses. We try to grow in our profession or a hobby. I struggled with an image of a saddened face and sunken shoulders as people move through life but never really grow.
Then it hit me. Human growth doesn’t have to be connected to the economic growth. As I read on, I think Dietz and O’Neill foresaw that question because they identified the areas that shouldn’t change and outlined the ones that should. The ones that should change include: “knowledge, technology, wisdom, the mix of products, income distribution, and social institutions”.
The real power of the book is not necessarily what is says, rather how it makes you think. There is no long and detailed plan that specifically shows how we could change the economy and our nation. Yet, the book is filled with options and you soon realize the economy we are a part of is not the only way.
Top Talent in All the Wrong Places
The section on unemployment for instance is hugely important. First lets take a look at a Colbert Show clip. The video tells the story of the $45 Billion F-35 fighter jet used by the US Military. Despite it’s price, the jet is unable to fly at night, but production has not been stopped because the project employs too many people and is too big to kill (in case you were wondering, the project employs 100,000 people across 45 states).
As funny as it is, that is actually happening. The report shows how counterintuitive our economy can be and Dietz and O’Neill take it a step further. They argue some of our nation’s top talent shouldn’t be focused on selling candy or tooth whiteners, when they could be used to market sustainable solutions or alternative economic solutions.
Finding What’s Meaningful
I agree with Dietz and O’Neill that this process of finding jobs and even advancing our society starts with education. They point out, “people have to understand the benefits of equality and democratized workplaces before they’ll support them”. In the end people care about what’s meaningful, such as family, rather than what consumer products they own.
As much as I would hope for a swift change, in the end people need jobs. People need money for food, transportation, and education. How do we find a balance of providing meaningful jobs, but also enough jobs?
Trying to Find a Balance
For one, we need to change the income disparity. As Dietz and O’Neill discuss there should be a ratio, such as 10:1, where the highest paid employee cannot make more than the lowest paid employee. In that same light, we need to raise the minimum wage to the point where people are able to work less and still provide for themselves and others. Dietz and O’Neill point out this added time could go towards meaningful activities, such as travel.
The current plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.10/hour by 2016 of course has caused lots of debate. On one side people say it’s needed, while the other side argues that wage increase will actually decrease jobs. Unfortunately, there is no way to know until it actually happens.
Wealth is More Than Consumer Goods
Lastly, we need to change our thinking and that begins with wanting less stuff. This won’t directly create jobs, in fact it may also make people lose their jobs, but it puts in motion an economy and society that doesn’t only depend on consumer goods. Imagine if people had the education and drive to create their own jobs? That’s where the real power lies. How though? Maybe more cooperatives or community owned business where each member helps to support the other.
Instead of buying more space to store more stuff, we could find a way to cut back. Imagine a world where the less you own is valued more than how much you do own...
Enough is Enough Video