Two Cents From Dave Wann

by Katy on February 25, 2009 · 12 comments


Simple Prosperity


We’ve been discussing Dave Wann’s Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle here at The Non-Consumer Advocate. 

Dave submitted a wonderfully detailed comment yesterday that I thought I would share with you guys. (It was just too good to leave buried in the comments section.)

Enjoy! And don’t forget to buy or check out your copy of the book so you can join in the discussion!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


Thanks to Katy, I’ve been following some of your commentary and comments about Simple Prosperity, and I think they are very enlightening and “right on.” Thanks for reading the book I spent 400 days in a row writing!

Although I’ve been asking conference audiences recently if we are in recession or remission, and if “Do Not Resuscitate” applies here, it’s clear that we’ll have to stop the bleeding before we can capture mainstream interest in a new story about a Restoration Economy, in which consumption is not compulsory but optional. The other night I spoke to a Florida audience about “Prospering in the New Economy,” gradually making the point (I think) that individual choice is often embedded in social expectations, practices, habits, regulations, infrastructure, media, and that the best way to create change is to change not just light bulbs and cars but value systems.

Even green over-consumption is still over-consumption. Efficiency’s great but we’ve often gobbled up the energy savings with demands for MORE. Houses became better insulated but we needed larger ones; cars and TVs became more efficient but we needed bigger, more powerful models. We increased our global production of grain but a heightened demand for meat left us still perilously close to the bottom of the barrel.

I concluded that our way of life is itself too expensive– not just our individual lifestyle but the way we meet needs at the cultural/social level. Trying to frame out how a New Economy might be collectively less expensive, I detailed the defensive spending that’s now necessary to cover for the loss of natural services (fish farming, vitamins, air freshener, desalination, damage control after hurricanes because wetlands no longer exist, etc., observing that if natural and cultural systems remain intact, we won’t collectively need to earn, borrow, and spend as much capital.

If our collective demand for products falls, so will prices, as we’ve seen recently with gasoline. With cooperation and synergies among technical systems, we make better use of finite resources.

When we design communities to fit human needs rather than corporate and automobile needs, our lifestyle becomes more affordable, and getting rid of war, packaging, glossy green lawns, and food waste also takes a huge chunk out of the collective cost of our lifestyle. We currently spend $900 per capita on advertising, which of course is embedded in the cost of products and services. Less consumption means less advertising. And less debt of course means less interest on the debt.

Reasonable reductions in meat consumption, air travel, and energy-intensive materials like cement, aluminum, paper, and synthetic chemicals makes it seem like we’re all making more money. Green chemistry, which shortens and softens the cost of making chemicals, lowers the cost of everything manufactured.

Preventive health approaches and more empathetic, service-oriented doctors and nurses lower the cost of maintaining our health, and better industrial design generates much less costly pollution.

In the New Economy, recycling becomes a religion so less extraction is required; resource productivity is more critical than labor productivity, and there is less need for crime control, lawsuits, and security systems, because with a higher ratio of social input as well as greater equality, we nurture a population that is less fearful and has less “status anxiety,” a direct stimulant of crime.

These savings arise not because we are “doing without,” but more because we’re getting rid of waste, creating a more sensible way of meeting needs and being in the world. Rather than requiring a hundred thousand hours of work per lifetime, this lifestyle enables each citizen to avoid the need for half a million dollars of earnings — yielding a better quality of life in which nature is on the rebound, and trust is, too.

Now more than ever, we need part-time jobs that “share the work and spare the planet.” In many EU countries, there are non-discrimination laws that prevent part-time workers from earning less per hour than full-time workers. In Holland, a third of the workforce works part-time. Less work means less commuting, fewer computers and printers sucking energy, fewer work costumes necessary.

These thoughts of a New Economy are part of my research for a book-in-progress, tentatively titled Beyond Simple Choices. A major theme is that to change individual behavior, we have to simultaneously change social norms, making it “safe” for individuals to begin living outside the box of our current paradigm — which is very much a ticking time-bomb. We need to support policies that take us in a new direction, like many that Obama & Co. are proposing.

Simplicity is about civilizations as well as individuals, and if ours survives and thrives it will be because we stripped away the junk, shortened the supply lines, and employed heavier doses of prevention, precision, and participation.

Maybe more later – sorry for this soapbox oration – I hope it’s useful. Thanks again for your interest in the book, and in creating positive change. For the future!


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendy February 25, 2009 at 6:59 pm

I am looking forward to David’s next book. If you haven’t found it yet, you may want o take a look at the information over at:

It is a very good resource.


Meg from FruWiki February 25, 2009 at 9:34 pm

All I can say is I <3 David Wann 😀


Pennie February 25, 2009 at 10:02 pm

David Wann rocks!

I was reading his book on 4 separate commercials flights this last week (hey, I gotta stay caught up to participate in my Non Consumer Book Club, right?) and in EVERY case a seatmate showed independent interest in it.

I didn’t waste the opportunity to get on *my* soapbox, either, as Mr. Wann has a powerful message to share and I believe people are more ready now to listen than ever before!


Storm Cunningham February 26, 2009 at 3:58 am

Good stuff, Dave. But I should point out that the Restoration Economy is not–as you point out–about making consumption optional. It’s about wealth-creation that’s based on renewing the places we’ve already developed, and on restoring the damage done to nature along the way. It’s about restoring our existing natural, built, and socioeconomic assets, rather than basing wealth on the compulsive creation of more assets (buildings, infrastructure, etc.). I documented 8 sectors of restorative development in 2002’s The Restoration Economy. In reWealth (McGraw-Hill, 2008) I showed how to put them all together in order to create rapid, resilient renewal. It was focused on communities, but the way things are going around the world right now, it might be time to scale those principles up to regional and national levels, eh wot?


Magdalena February 26, 2009 at 8:21 am

It’s a great message, but I am entirely cynical that it will ever happen without legislation. People enjoy consumerism and materialism. They won’t just give it up because it’s the right thing to do.


LeAnna February 26, 2009 at 9:41 am

Devil’s Advocate says:

What about all of the jobs that get cut when we scale back the need for lawsuits, marketing, cashiers, oil field workers, etc.? Wouldn’t that just tank the economy even further? What’s a good response to that, because that’s ALL I hear about up here when I’m not preaching to the choir.


Meg from FruWiki February 26, 2009 at 10:11 am


I think that there is plenty of room for job growth in America that is responsible and ethical.

I, for one, would like to see more small businesses and especially cottage industries instead of these huge big box stores that ship jobs overseas. Sure, the big box model is “efficient”, but what that mean when they say that is that it takes less people to sell goods in Walmart than it does to sell them person to person — which means that there are less jobs. I think that sites like Etsy are going to help cottage industries increase substantially (if our lawmakers don’t get in the way).

Then there are all the green industry jobs! What we lose in oil field workers, we’ll make up for in solar panel makers, salesmen, installers, and repairmen.

Our economy is going to have to change, though, and change isn’t always easy even when it is positive. But wouldn’t it be nice if we (on average) we worked less hours each week and spent more time with loved ones?! And instead of blowing our paychecks on lots of cheap crap made in sweatshops we instead bought fewer but higher quality items (that didn’t need constant replacing!) made by small businesses that provide quality jobs in neighborhoods like your own and that can custom make products to match your needs?!

I don’t know if it’ll ever be quite that simple — especially as corporations try to squeeze every last cent out of people. After all, the economy I describe goes against traditional business ideas that are all about efficiency, low costs, and high profits. But it’s something that I can still hope for and try to make a personal reality by patronizing better businesses and buying less from the worst offenders.


Wendy February 26, 2009 at 11:02 am

It should come as no surprise that the issue with moving toward an economy that allows workers greater freedom of time will be challenged by the vernacular of the mainstream media which are funded by commercial entities. In the past, anything that has resembled a benefit to the people, or labor, is often classified as “SOCIALISM” which is a word that has been used to stir conditional reflexes in people not unlike Pavlov’s dogs.


Dave Wann February 26, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Great comments. First, my apologies to Storm Cunningham, who’s written a book that uses the same phrase – Restoration Economy- I was using more generically. I should use small letters, I suppose. It does seem to be a great moniker for a new era, and I’ve been using it myself for years. I do know the sting of titles used generically, however. There are now three books titled Affluenza, one of them (the first) being the book I coauthored with John de Graaf, producer of two PBS documentaries with that title. Our book is now in 9 languages. The author of the British version took his thoughts about the disease he’d discovered (affluenza) to the House of Lords. Anyway, my apologies, and I do have both Restoration Economy and reWealth on order from my library system.

Regarding jobs in a New Economy, we are so used to thinking of things as they are that we often can’t imagine a society with less money different jobs, and the notion of Being rather than Buying. What we learn can be as important as what we earn.

It’s true that we’ve designed ourselves into a corner, e.g., 110 million jumbo homes, that will take several generations to design ourselves back out of. We’re like a cat that’s run up a tree and can’t figure out how to get back down.

Time, trust, restoration, health, generosity, authenticity, great neighborhoods aren’t just airy-fairy words — they are currencies that are likely to substitute for a large chunk of of our preoccupation with $$.

A hundred years ago, there were 8,000 cars in the U.S. and 144 miles of roads. Only 8 percent of U.S. homes had phones, and 14 percent had bathtubs. We’ve made many positive adjustments but other additions toour emerging civilization are well beyond the scale of rising benefits and are now diminishing returns.

Here’s my spin on an undercurrent that has shaped our way of life. Between 1900 and the present, worker productivity per hour increased 8-fold, and our consumption of material goods increased 18-fold. We adapted to this new capability, in effect choosing activities, industries, cultural norms based on what machines, banks, ind industrial infrastructure could provide. Now, we are asking ourselves, “But is this what we want? Does this way of meeting our needs doventail with who we are as a species, or not?”


TryinginToronto February 26, 2009 at 12:29 pm

David Wann, how wonderful to have your thoughts during this book discussion and for Katy to have shared them.

I read a book (from a free garage sale pile) called “Get a Life” – the subtitle is something like “How to Make Money and Dance Around the Dinosaurs” (unfortunately I can’t find my copy so can’t be more precise about the subtitle, but I have it somewhere). It was published in Toronto in the 1990s and it must have been independent press because a quick search online didn’t reveal it.

Anyway, it discusses the potential for new economies and really whole new economic paradigms with enthusiasm and joy, and rejects more conventional dichotomies of all or nothing, consumerism or economic downfall, and naysaying in general. So smaller scale and cottage industries will fill niches that large corporations can’t. Governments would provide rebates for people who undertake energy conservation measures, thus creating jobs for eco-auditors and saving itself money by preventing the need for building additional power plants.

It was written before the current economic downturn but still resonates with me, especially when ask us to consider whether we’re in a recession or remission. I suspect your current work will similarly stretch our thinking and highlight possibilities. Look forward to it and best of luck.


Dave Wann February 26, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Yes, “Trying,” I think so much of the DIRECTION we take now will be based on what we value enough to nurture and protect. Right now, about three-sevenths of a stimulus plan ($292 billion) is spent in the U.S. for economic activities that are destructive rather than productive in a holistic sense: things like over-fishing to the point of collapse by subsidizing fishing boats and monster nets; pumping down wells and aquifers; depleting oil and gas supplies; clear-cutting mountainsides;
depleting soil by taking more nutrients and organic out than we put back.

These subsidies were intended to pump up “growth,” which also includes many other “bads” that should be subtracted rather than added to the national accounting system, as the Genuine Progress Indicator suggests. Some of the current administration’s proposals are brilliant because they demand efficiency and clean energy, encourage preventive health care, increase human capital with higher-quality education; and in general, put us on a different path. Of course it’s scary, it’s not familiar to many. But it’s a way out of the mess we’re in — a new start.

And yes, “Meg,” we can create as many jobs as we need as long as we don’t expect everyone to earn $100,000 a year. With a different way of being in the world, $40,000 is more than enough. (I live on roughly $30,000 and wish I had a bit more, but I’m always on a treadmill with these books I write and films I produce! Nine books and six or seven videos/TV programs — all on topics that are not really very popular with the mainstream.

I like Van Jones’ book Green Collar Economy because it merges social justice and sustainability, documenting proven job-creating efforts in various sectors. Local governments and foundations are great resources for job creation, because they know what residents need. In Bellingham, WA, for example, the local culture favors locally grown organic food, but the regional population of farmers was disappearing. So last year the City trained something like a dozen new farmers and helped them find land, too. 12 is not 3.5 million, of course, but let’s give this Recovery Plan a chance: we’ll have efficient cars, new teachers and GP doctors; transmission grids for renewable energy, and better public transit within a few years. With a new pride in our communities, we’ll find all kinds of value right in our neighborhoods that eliminates the need for huge salaries.

Challenging? Absolutely, but we’ll make it.



Magdalena February 26, 2009 at 9:10 pm

A hundred years ago, 85% of the population was agrarian. Now it’s 2 percent. (Don’t quote me on the statistics, I’m working from memory, which is a leaky boat at best.) Now everyone wants clean office jobs. Where do we go from here?


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