Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Deep Economy" Precis

In his Deep Economy, Bill McKibben makes a resolute manifesto against growth on the basis of three primary reasons. The first is political-- growth has led to less stability and greater inequality. Secondly, our growth pollutes our planet and is just not sustainable. The third and ultimate contingency for Mckibben comes from the law of diminishing marginal utility, something taught in just about any introductory economics class. This concept, also referred to as “Gossen’s First Law”, states that all other things being equal (ceteris paribus), as consumption of a product increases there is a decline in the marginal utility derived from consuming each additional unit of that product.

I think that McKibben would like to boldly assume that his intended audience is the general public. However, he’s primarily writing for a libertarian leaning audience tuned into economic discourse. “Growth is no longer making us happy,” McKibben writes, but this then brings up an important question: who is “us”? White Harvard graduates driving around in our hybrids and living in our solar powered homes in Vermont? One can stand on a soap box and preach all they want about shopping locally, but does a single mother working three jobs just to put a roof over her family’s head really have the means to do this? Ceteris paribus, the answer would be “no.”

The ceteris paribus assumption exists as the crux of scientific inquiry’s purpose, put simply, to inquire. Scientific law essentially rules out factors that may interfere with the subject under examination in order to generate a specific causal relationship. These are the stakes of the grassroots sort of action McKibben is calling for. This may seem idealistic for some, but his argument is not necessarily a polemic intended to suggest some sort of radical systemic change or even the sort of “alters” to the market we have encountered in this class.

In Deep Economy, McKibben indeed moves away from the usual trope of economic discourse we have engaged with this semester. And while Asaf makes an excellent point that he expounds his “alter” argument “without pointing out the basic fallacies of capitalism”, that’s missing the point McKibben is trying to get at: we need to radically shift our focus to local economies. Rather than writing capitalism off completely he makes an argument to imagine “progress” anew—“to alter” the market rather than as an “alter” in and of itself.

Much of Deep Economy is exhortation perpetuated through metaphor. McKibben pushes the reader to personally reflect on how their lives exacerbate the problems presented in his narrative. His argument seems a bit subjective to this end. Yet, McKibben acknowledges that much of his metaphors are anecdotal, but he reminds us that it all comes back to our growth ideology. His challenge to this growth ideology is not unfamiliar and is quite easy to follow, which ultimately lends itself to making McKibben’s argument a compelling one.

As Elena brings up in her post, the $10,000 figure that quantifies happiness seems to be an idiosyncrasy for McKibben. However, I believe that this is where McKibben makes his argument a bit more tangible and a “hopeful manifesto”. McKibben puts a lot of emphasis on the political and philosophical considerations challenging growth. Both of these make for a very compelling argument. However, I believe the physical contingency of his argument is the strongest—our present growth ideology is simply not sustainable. Just as Dale mentioned in class that there really isn’t such a thing as “anti-environmentalist”, just ignorant a-holes.

Chris Witmer
ID: 20482684

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