Thursday, May 15, 2008

Book Review: Deep Economy

I first heard the name Bill McKibben in a blog comment (which I can't find, now!). Before I had time to even google him, I heard his name again, and again, and again. Finally, I decided to find out who this author was and read something he had written. When a copy of McKibben’s "Deep Economy" became available just as Green Bean was starting her Bookworm challenge, I knew I had my book!

In "Deep Economy" (subtitled: "The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future"), McKibben turns common economic assumptions on their heads. He argues that growth is not necessarily a good thing. Less is more. Small is better than large. Money doesn’t buy happiness unless one truly needs more of it. Small farms can feed the world better than mega-farms.

The message I got from reading his book is that what is missing in modern society and what would make people happier is not more money, it’s more community, and, conversely, for the poor of the developing world, there is plenty of community, but not enough money. McKibben suggests that a better economic model than more growth is better growth. He champions communities which provide much of their own food, radio, electricity and entertainment. I found some of his ideas to be very compelling and if I were to read enough of him, he'd make me want to move to Vermont! He also makes the interesting point that what is good for the individual is not necessarily good for the community and vice versa. For example, the arrival of a Walmart to a small town may be good for individuals who are trying to stretch a paycheck, but it hurts the community by putting small local businesses out of business.

"Deep Economy" is very thoughtfully written. I felt it has a larger global perspective than some other books I’ve read recently and I appreciated McKibben’s awareness of the poor. I’m recommending it, but with a couple caveats. When I enjoy a book, I normally read it from cover to cover in one or two sessions. For some reason, "Deep Economy" was really easy to put down. It didn’t put me to sleep, it wasn’t boring, but it took me days to finish. Also, if you are going to read the book and are not an econ major, I’ll save you some frustration. Adam Smith was born in Scotland in the 1700's and he is considered to be the "father of economics." McKibben refers to Smith repeatedly without ever explaining who he is so I finally googled him. I give "Deep Economy" 3-½ stars out of 5. If I hadn't dropped out of the only Economics class I ever enrolled in at college, I'd probably give him more.


Green Bean said...

Thanks for taking the time to do a review - it is so helpful to be able to rely on fellow bloggers, people with similar interests, to be able to sift through the millions of green reads. Thanks Donna!

BTW, I've linked to this review on my side bar.

Erikka said...

i've wanted to read this for a while now, but it sounds like it is similar in nature to Small is Beautiful by EF Schmauker, who is really one of the pioneers of this movement. Try that one or maybe we could read it together...?

kale for sale said...

You do the best book reviews! I had a couple of the same experiences while reading this. I wanted to move to Vermont although I have two close friends who grew up there and would never go back. Why?, I wonder. And secondly, although I made it through to the end and enjoyed it, I was sluggish about reading the last half. My favorite part was his year of eating locally and that he just seems like a sincerely smart nice guy who cares about the world.

Donna said...

GB - Thanks for doing the challenge! It's wonderful to be able to sort out books I might want to read.

Erikka - I just checked and my local library has the Schmauker book so I'll have to take a look. Thanks for the tip!

Kale - Exactly! We must have really similar taste in books. Any others you'd recommend?

Natalie said...

Hi Donna!

I've seen your comments on several other blogs I frequent. I didn't realize that you were a fellow Oregonian! I live in SW Portland.

And, for another coincidence, I also just finished Deep Economy. I liked McKibbon's main premise that More and Better are no longer one and the same in our modern society. I, too, liked his awareness of the poor world-wide. And, I especially loved his term "hyper-individual" to describe Americans.

McKibbon's example of Cuba gave me great hope that we could change our current agricultural system in a very short order, if enough pressure was applied. But I found the end to be a little weak - too full of anecdotes and too sparse on "next steps" to achieve positive change. (Like any of us have concrete answers at this point, right!?)

I totally agree that if I ever have to leave Oregon, I'm headed straight to Vermont!

Donna said...

Natalie - Thanks for stopping by! It's always great to hear from a fellow Oregonian. (I just tried to check out your blog, but I couldn't get to any posts. Don't know what went wrong.)

I agree with your comments about the book. McKibben had a lot of good stuff in there, I just had trouble getting through it!

Natalie said...

Darn! I misspelled his name twice!

Blog? What blog? ;-) No seriously, I just started it yesterday so there is actually no content just yet. It's really just going to be a way of bringing armchair activism to some of my friends, without the hassle of constantly inundating them with lengthy emails to sign petitions or write letters. I wasn't going to have it up until June (like that's so long from now). But No Impact Man's request for emails is forcing my self-imposed deadline up a bit.

Speaking of blogs, here's a shameless plug for and written by some moms at my kids' preschool. You might enjoy them.

Donna said...

Thanks for the links!