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average American is badly overweight,
largely because of the intake of rela-
tively expensive processed commercial
A Conversation
foods, which we often rely on because
we spend so much time at our jobs,
with Bill
earning the money we need to support
a consumer way of life.
Or, consider leisure. The average
European works about seven fewer
weeks a year than we do. Yes, they
consequently have less disposable
by S. Alison Chabonais
income, but far more time with family
and friends. Not surprisingly, Euro-
peans generally report being happier
ill McKibben is the author of a
you can heat your hut in the winter. You
with their lives than we are, concludes
dozen books on the environment
can add another room for you, your
prominent British economist Richard
and culture, most recently, Deep
wife and your kid. You get some relative
Layard, in Happiness: Lessons from a
Economy: The Wealth of Communities
privacy for the fi rst time in your life,
New Science.
and the Durable Future. He explains
worth a great deal in terms of increased
how vibrant local economies are get-
happiness. Q. Deep Economy makes a convincing
ting it right and showing us the way to
But, past a certain point—which case that rebuilding community-ori-
a saner, human-scale world. McKibben
economists around the world have esti- ented neighborhoods and sustainable
also is co-founder of, the fi rst
mated at roughly $10,000 a year in aver- local economies delivers a better
global grassroots movement to deal
age income, or $40,000 for a family of quality of life; so, where do we start?
with climate change.
four in this country—that equation starts
Probably the simplest place is with
to fall apart. Americans, for example,
localizing food supplies. Because that’s
Q. In Deep Economy, you note that
have been using their money to build
a consumer decision we make three
America’s “more is better” mantra of
massive houses, where everyone has
times a day, we can convert at our own
economic progress is no longer making
their own room and electronic screen.
pace. I once spent a year eating noth-
us wealthier, but instead, less happy,
We barely see our families, much less
ing but local foods. I met many of my
less healthy and more insecure.
our neighbors. The average American
neighbors for the fi rst time—all the
Why is this?
today has half as many close friends as
farmers who were growing my food.
Up to a certain point, accumulation
the average American of 1950.
Neighborliness is a common
does make you happier. Visit, say, rural
outcome; in one study cited by Chris-
China; there, people live in extreme
Q. What else have we sacrifi ced by
topher Cook in Diet for a Dead Planet,
poverty, often with six or seven people
buying into advertisers’ push to
sociologists followed shoppers, fi rst
in a room. When you make some
accumulate more stuff?
around the supermarket, and then
money, perhaps working at a factory,
Where to start? Health, maybe. The around the farmers’ market; the aver-
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