Does envy have you trying to “keep up with the Joneses?” Do you have a closet or segment of your home dedicated to barely-used items that now just take up space? Many Americans do a pretty good job at thinking of wants as needs. For instance, many sources note that while the United States holds less than 5% of the world’s population, we consume around a quarter of energy and other resources.
You’d think that with all the extra stuff and the money we use to buy it we must be happier, right? Not according to the World Economic Forum. According to a measure known as the Happiness Index (six significant factors which contribute to happiness), “although the US ranks highly for per capita income, it is only ranked 18th out of 156 countries, substantially below most comparably wealthy nations.”
Of course, per capita income stats are deceiving. Disparity runs deep in America. Millions of people live in deep poverty, not only lacking in material needs, but also the basics of adequate shelter and healthy food. While necessary, charitable responses can only go so far. Some would argue that structural changes are needed to reduce the suffering of the have-nots (e.g. changes to economic assistance, housing, and tax policy). In other words, more must be asked of the rest of us.
So, how much is enough? This is not simply an economic question. It’s environmental as well.
Humanity is currently consuming resources at a pace faster than the Earth’s ecological systems can renew them. Collectively, we have significantly passed the planet’s regeneration line.
That brings up a couple of important questions for America and Americans: Should there be limits to how much a person, a community, or our country can have or consume? And, if so, should it be up to the individual, our government, or some independent standard to measure if we’ve reached the point of adequate consumption and/or possession?
How much is enough?