It used to be that more was better. Industrialization, urbanization, specialization and capitalism made people wealthier, healthier and happier. But where are we now? In his new book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Bill McKibben poses the controversial theory that economic growth and industrial expansion just aren't as good for people as they used to be. While the Industrial Revolution gave birth to widely dispersed wealth and a new middle class, McKibben cites statistics that suggest around 80 percent of us are poorer today than we were five years ago, relative to the cost of living.
And we're unhappier, too as measured by statistics on depression and surveys that ask people point-blank if they've considered suicide. Many people feel unconnected to family and neighbors. Bigger houses help us live out TV-generated fantasies of the American dream, but they also make us more lonely. We eat cheap corporate junk that was trucked in from over a thousand miles away. And the accumulation of greenhouse gases a direct result of unchecked growth threatens the very survival of our planet.
If more money, more acres and more cheap tortilla chips are no longer the secret to happiness, what is? Farmers markets, as they symbolize the kind of future McKibben would like to see. Such markets provide an outlet for small-scale, organic, non-corporate farmers offering food that hasn't grown tired in its journey from California or Florida. And they provide an opportunity to connect with other people, the beginnings of community. Most of all, they provide a business paradigm that unhooks people from a system of reckless growth.
In short, McKibben thinks we need another kind of bottom line that doesn't just measure profit, but also measures fulfillment and a sense of connection. He notes in his first chapter that two birds named More and Better used to roost together on the same tree branch. But these days, McKibben writes, Better has flown a few trees over to make her nest. That changes everything. Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.