Deep Economy The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

Bill McKibben

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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In this manifesto, Bill McKibben offers the biggest challenge in a generation to the prevailing view of our economy. For the first time in human history, he observes, "more" is no longer synonymous with "better"—indeed, for many of us, they have become almost opposites. McKibben puts forward a new way to think about the things we buy, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the money that pays for it all.

The animating idea of Deep Economy is that we need to move beyond "growth" as the paramount economic ideal and pursue prosperity in a more local direction, with cities, suburbs, and regions producing more of their own food, generating more of their own energy, and even creating more of their own culture and entertainment. McKibben shows this concept blossoming around the world with striking results, from the burgeoning economies of India and China to the more mature societies of Europe and New England. For those who worry about environmental threats, he offers a route out of the worst of those problems; for those who wonder if there isn't something more to life than buying, he provides the insight to think about one's life as an individual and as a member of a larger community.

A generation ago, many environmentalists advocated "deep ecology," through which they sought to move beyond short-term, piecemeal reforms by asking profound questions about the choices people make in their daily lives. McKibben demonstrates that we need a similar shift in our thinking about economics—we need to think about the "deep economy" that takes human satisfaction and societal durability more seriously. As he shows, the more we nurture the essential humanity of our economy, the more we will recapture our own.


Praise for Deep Economy

"Masterfully crafted, deeply thoughtful and mind-expanding . . . An incisive critique of the unintended consequences of our growth-oriented economy."—Los Angeles Times

"It would be unwise to dismiss McKibben's ideas as pipe dreams or Luddism. He makes his case on anecdotal, environmental, moral and, as it were, aesthetic grounds. An attentive, widely traveled writer and environmentalist, McKibben cites the success of local projects around the world, from a rabbit-raising academy in China to a Guatemalan cooperative that manufactures farm machinery from old bicycles."—Lance Morrow, The New York Times Book Review

"Deep Economy is about far more than food. At its heart is a marvelous exposition of Joel Salatin's belief that everything has an appropriate scale. For McKibben, the appropriate scale for a sustainable and fulfilling life is the community . . . McKibben provides a wonderful example of how the expansion of radio-networks in America—at the expense of truly local radio stations—has cost the communities dear . . . In one aspect of life after another McKibben shows us show us how globalization has destroyed communities and the detracted from the quality of life of Americans."—The New York Review of Books

"McKibben, author of The End of Nature, suggests that there is a basic question haunting our moment on earth: 'Is more better?' For thousands of years, the standard of living for human society remained relatively static, with the majority of people existing in a condition of general scarcity. But when living conditions began to improve, thanks to the power of industrialization and modern capitalism, the obvious conclusion was that 'more' could only be better. Today, argues McKibben, this belief warrants revision. Measured in terms of growing inequalities within and across nations, a wealth of evidence suggests that 'more' is no longer better—indeed, 'more' may be very bad for us and our world. McKibben claims that the antidote for many global economic problems can be found locally. To this end, he argues that attention should be redirected towards more traditional means of pursuing prosperity within our communities, such as farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture farms (CSAs), community-based radio stations, and mercantile cooperatives. While a turn to the local may not be fast, cheap, or easy, it may very well prove necessary if we are to secure the thriving of human beings in the decades ahead."—Josh Yates, Virginia Quarterly Review

"Up-front disclosure: Bill's a friend and sometime collaborator. But if his book weren't terrific I wouldn't mention it. He takes on a question that hardly anyone, no matter his or her political persuasion, is willing to ask: Is economic growth a good thing? Dave Brower used to say that economic is a sophisticated device for stealing from our children. And Ed Abbey famously quipped that growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. But nearly everyone else, left, right, and center, insists that perpetual growth is possible and necessary. McKibben blows this assumption out of the water, making an irresistible argument, buttressed with impressive logic and authority, that not only is unending economic growth causing catastrophic damage to the earth, the atmosphere, and human equality, the sheer fact of getting more and more stuff is not making people happier. It's hard to do his thesis justice in a short space: I urge you to read it for yourself. A very important book."—Earth Justice

"If you fancy yourself on the cutting edge of things you keep up with the trends, stay abreast of the news you'll want to read Deep Economy by Bill McKibben . . . McKibben's prose is pithy and approachable, e.g., when writing of what will happen if our carbon emissions go unchecked and the temperature continues to rise, he says, ‘We might as well have a contest to pick a new name for Earth, because it will be a different planet. Humans have never done anything bigger, not even the invention of nuclear weapons.' He also possesses a sly wit: ‘Even President George W. Bush, in his 2006 State of the Union address, announced that we were ‘addicted to oil,' a recognition slow in coming (akin, say, to Abraham Lincoln using his Second Inaugural Address to note the existence of slavery down south).' This sharp sense of humor is present throughout. I started marking examples, but found I was turning down the corner of almost every page . . . This book if you read it carefully and thoughtfully all the way through is a life-changer. McKibben gives realistic, practical application but you need to read the book. I'm not going to tell you what they are. Not just so you'll go out and buy the book, but so you'll have the pleasure of reading such cogent, beguiling and enticing prose. Suffice it to say that the answer isn't more, but better."—Sarah M. Streed, The Captial Times

"McKibben's Deep Economy asks the crucial question that will occupy the next few human generations: Can we cut back on our profligate lifestyles to save the environment, and possibly our own species? McKibben is a fitting prophet to proclaim that we should retreat from the current overheated global economy that is overwhelming the Earth's resources toward one with a lighter footprint . . . The bulk of Deep Economy focuses on vignettes and glimpses into locally lived lives that are successfully generating deep economies. Appropriately, he focuses much of his book near his home in Middlebury, VT., seamlessly extending local examples of deep economy to others around the planet . . . McKibben builds a strong case that if more local urban economies developed around food and other commodities, we would have a healthier planet . . . McKibben's dexterity as a keen observer and stellar wordsmith makes Deep Economy well worth reading. His command of rhythm, language, phrasing and stories give life and possibility to ideas of sustainable change, moving beyond the shopworn doomsday rhetoric that makes environmental actions seem necessary but painful, toward examples and ideas that make change seem attainable and desirable . . . McKibben inspires us through his stories and personal examples to believe that maybe, just maybe, individual and local community action can make a difference, and that we can recalibrate our economic indcitors toward local organic grocery."—Mark L. Winston, The Globe and Mail

"McKibben is back with Deep Economy, applying the ideas behind local, decentralized economics to various aspects of contemporary life: the gathering of food (in small farms and farmers' markets), the production of energy (on your roof or in your backyard), the happiness of communities and the sustainability of an ecological system he believes is already on the brink . . . We've heard this line of reasoning countless times . . . What makes McKibben's book stand out is the completeness of his arguments and his real-world approach to solutions. And while it is easy for some in the developed world to talk about paying a little extra for local goods, McKibben is mindful of the fact that any solution should also work for those in the developing world."—Jon Christensen, USA Today

"In Deep Economy, [McKibben] takes on America's faith in growth, which has become, in his words, the ‘untrumpable hand.' McKibben argues that the economic expansion of the last several decades has been misinterpreted by politicians on both the left and the right, and by a lot of economists to boot . . . One of the book's great strengths is that it presses beyond the statistics to imagine a different way of doing things. This is where eating locally comes in. Growing food on huge, corporate-owned farms may be more profitable, but it turns out that small farms generate higher yields per acre. They use resources like water and oil more efficiently. Meanwhile, small farms hold communities together. They connect people to the land, and to each other. All of which means that by consuming less, we might actually find that we had gained something. In the end, it turns out that McKibben shares less with Malthus than with Henry David Thoreau, another New Englander who changed his life as an experiment. A deep strain of optimism—even idealism—runs through Deep Economy, and that is why, for all its attention to our failures, the book is inspiring to read. Deep Economy shows us not only the way we need to live, but also the way we should want to."—Elizabeth Kolbert, The Boston Globe

"Deep Economy plots a new path, one seemingly inspired by longtime local champions like writer Wendell Berry . . . What makes the book compelling isn't McKibben's call for eco-righteousness; we all know we could do better by the planet. It's his convincing argument that engaging with local 'deep economy' can bring every one of is selfish bastards a happier, richer life."—Outside magazine

"The emerging science of happiness has sobering news for companies: Once people have a modest income, adding more money or things does nothing for their level of satisfaction. Instead, family and friends make the difference. As McKibben, a social critic, points out, the Western economic culture of ‘more is better' may have run its course. It made sense in earlier centuries, when most people had few things and plenty of companions. Now we have the opposite situation—with global warming and resource depletion to boot. What's a customer-centric company to do? Much of the book describes the growing movement of ‘buying local': consumers willingly accepting limited choices and multiple-stop shopping because they crave connections to people nearby . . . Offers insights for executives who see social responsibility not as a burden but as a strategic opportunity."—Harvard Business Review

"Bill McKibben's wonderful book Deep Economy first opened my eyes to some of the staggering statistics regarding the international agriculture industry. It now requires more energy to grow and ship our food than we are ingesting into our bodies. For example, according to McKibben, 'The Swedish Food Institute . . . discovered that growing and distributing a pound of frozen peas required 10 times as much energy as the peas contained . . . A pound of grapes flown in from Chile effectively gives off six pounds of carbon dioxide.' The solution is simple: Buy local and support our farmers markets."—Jennifer Parrish, The Mercury News (San Jose)

"McKibben's new book, Deep Economy, is an insightful look at the dynamics between stuff and happiness . . . McKibben gives us so many insights and strategies that his message is worth examining and his new book is worth adding to our libraries . . . McKibben gives us food for thought and, most importantly, encouragement and optimism that there are solutions both sustaining and satisfying."—David Wiesenberg, Farming Magazine

"I'd like to see Deep Economy read in every Econ 101 class. Bill McKibben asks the central human question: What is the economy for? The stakes here are terrifyingly high, but with his genial style and fascinating examples of alternative approaches, McKibben convinces me that economics is anything but dismal—if only we can learn to do it right!"—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

"The cult of growth and globalization has seldom been so effectively challenged as by Bill McKibben in Deep Economy. But this bracing tonic of a book also throws the bright light of McKibben's matchless journalism on the vibrant local economies now springing up like mushrooms in the shadow of globalization. Deep Economy fills you with a hope and a sense of fresh possibility."—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

"How is our nation going to cope with global warming, peak oil, inequality, and a growing sense of isolation? Bill McKibben provides the simple but brilliant answer the economists have missed—we need to create 'depth' through local interdependence and sustainable use of resources. I will be requiring this inspiring book for my students, and passionately recommending it to everyone else I know."—Juliet Schor, professor of sociology, Boston College, and author of The Overspent American

"Bill McKibben works on the frontiers of new understandings and returns with his startling and lucid revelations of the possible future. A saner human-scale world does exist—just over the horizon—and McKibben introduces us to the people and ideas leading us there."—William Greider, author of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy

"Beginning with his prescient treatise on global warming, The End of Nature, McKibben has been investigating and elucidating some of the most confounding aspects of our lives. He now brings his signature clarity of thought and handsomely crafted prose to a pivotal, complicated subject, the negative consequences of our growth-oriented economy. McKibben incisively interprets a staggering array of studies that document the symbiotic relationship between fossil fuels and five decades of dizzying economic growth, and the many ways the pursuit of ever-higher corporate profits has led to environmental havoc and neglect of people's most basic needs. At once reportorial, philosophic, and anecdotal, McKibben, intoning the mantra 'more is not better,' takes measure of diminishing returns. With eroding security, a dysfunctional health system, floundering public schools, higher rates of depression, 'wild inequity' in the distribution of wealth, and damage to the biosphere, McKibben believes a new paradigm is needed, that of a 'deep economy' born of sustainable and sustaining communities anchored in local resources. Using the farmer's market as a template, he explains the logistics of workable alternatives to the corporate imperative based on ecological capacities and the 'economics of neighborliness.' With the threat of energy crises and global warming, McKibben's vision of nurturing communities rooted in traditional values and driven by 'green' technologies, however utopian, may provide ideas for constructive change."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"Challenging the prevailing wisdom that the goal of economies should be unlimited growth, McKibben argues that the world doesn't have enough natural resources to sustain endless economic expansion . . . McKibben's proposals for new, less growth-centered ways of thinking about economics are intriguing, and offer hope that change is possible."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



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For most of human history, the two birds More and Better roosted on the same branch. You could toss one stone and hope to hit them both. That's why the centuries since Adam Smith have been devoted to the dogged pursuit of maximum...

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  • Bill McKibben

  • Bill McKibben is the author of ten books, including The End of Nature, The Age of Missing Information, and Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age. A former staff writer for The New Yorker, he writes regularly for Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Review of Books, among other publications. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and lives in Vermont with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, and their daughter.

  • Bill McKibben Steve Liptay
    Bill McKibben



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