Can the principle of sufficiency, of seeking enough, face the dominance of the efficiency model that currently underpins our economic structure and works to undermine ecological sensibility?


I've been reading Thomas Princen's (2005) The Logic of Sufficiency (MIT Press) with great interest. Princen is a professor at the University of Michigan. He works in the School of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy, specifically working on Natural Resource and Environmental Policy. He's also the co-editor of another fine book (with Michael Maniates and Ken Conca), Confronting Consumption (2002, also MIT Press).

The Logic of Sufficiency, simply put, is a book that works to move beyond the basic idea of sufficiency - that seeking enough when more is possible is both rational and intuitive - into a principle of sufficiency that can help frame and give form to structures of sufficiency in society. I'm not writing a book review here, so forgive me the easy breezy overview-ish tone. (Here is one other synopsis; and here is a review from Nature.)

Princen develops his conceptual framework, and provides a number of exemplars that demonstrate the viability and ecological rationality of sufficiency. What's just as interesting to me is that he does well to discuss the growth of the logic of efficiency and the dangers the dogma of efficiency can cause.

What is more, he takes three analytically "hard" cases as exemplars in the bulk of the second half of the book (these, among the numerous examples he presents along the way by way of illustrating one point or another) :

  1. Ward's Island in Toronto, a place that has resisted automobility and succeeded as an ecologically healthy and viable urban space
  2. The Pacific Lumber Company in California, which, over the last half century, has consistently chosen to restrain their annual harvests and to cut less rather than more, even in the face of mounting structural market pressures that would demand the greatest possible harvest for shareholder profit maximization
  3. And the Monhegan lobster fishermen, who helped push legislation in Maine to promote a near-century long set of practices that encouraged restrained resource use instead of open waters for the biggest trawler to take the most lobster in the least amount of time.

The hard cases stand beyond the great many easy cases one could point to - any number of successful communes or outliers or off-the-rid residents; countries like Norway or Costa Rica; traditions in the world that make ecological vitality paramount (that good old American Indian wisdom, e g.). Not that those easier analytical cases - that is, they are easier to analyze, to see how they work and why - are no good. They are; they're wonderful. It's more that the hard cases help us see how, to quote Princen (p, 17), "even in the most efficiency-driven, growth-oriented society of north America, sufficiency can make sense."

Anyway, consider Princen's work recommended.

Now I have to go finish it and run to class to talk about controlling the lower Mississippi (yeah John McPhee, Ari Kelman, and Craig Colten - but that's for another post).

More like this

It is tempting to despair of all action. And sometimes those who despair are right. But sometimes they aren't. And this, I think is an important and central point for everyone who hits those moments when they simply don't believe society will self-correct in any measure from its impending…
"Never has so little been asked of so many at such a critical moment." Michael Maniates, a professor of environmental science and political science at Alleghany College, contributed a compelling op-ed to the Washington Post recently, "Going Green? Easy Doesn't Do it." Maniates basic point is…
Ok, folks, I'm taking a poll - what do you call a society and an economy that can't keep growing, but can get better in ways that haven't been part of the conventional measures. What I'm looking for is a word or a couple of words that are evocative, not boring, not too wordy or wonky and appealing…
Today's lesson is from Is Decoupling GDP Growth from Environmental Impact Possible? (h/t mt), by James D. Ward , Paul C. Sutton, Adrian D. Werner, Robert Costanza, Steve H. Mohr, Craig T. Simmons; October 14, 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0164733. And here is their abstract. The…