Cicero asked, Cannot people realize how large an income is thrift? Apparently not. Working more so we can consume more seems to be much more popular than working less and consuming less. Yet this is just what we must do if we are to live within our limited ecological means. As individuals, we can begin by taking the basic Green steps:
- Choose goods and services with the least negative environmental impact
- Work at employment that enhances, rather than damages, the ecological health of the planet
Beyond that, we need to reduce the size of the economy, and the only way to do that is to simplify on both sides of the economic equation:
- Consume less, which will save money
- Work less and earn less to balance the savings from reduced consumption.
This seemed fairly straightforward, but as I wrote the last post it became clear that I had taken on much more than I could manage. The psychology of work and consumption is very complex and my attempt to enumerate the reasons people work for money (in contrast to working for Schumacher’s spiritual reasons) was pathetic. Beyond a few simple steps like paying off debts, it is not clear how to motivate ourselves to simplify our lives. I will need to do some research and reflection and come back to this topic.
Just as taxation can make it easier to shift to more environmentally-friendly products, government can play a role in making it easier to reduce consumption and production. For example:
- Legislation can shorten the work day or work week, increase vacations and holidays, provide for study leave, make it easy to retire early, and make education more affordable. These policies would all help to reduce the Respect deterrent to living simply.
- Good social programs such as retirement and disability benefits, a guaranteed income, affordable housing, and health care could reduce the Fear factor. Business has traditionally opposed these measures partly from the belief that they would, indeed, reduce motivation to work.
So I begin with spiritual and ecological concerns, find the psychology to be frighteningly complex, and fall back on public policy, which is the easy way out.