In 1991, Bob Goudzwaard and Harry de Lange tell us, more than "2 million more Americans found themselves in poverty than in 1990, bringing the total figure to 35.7 million people, or to 14.2 percent of the American population." They go on to observe that "more people are homeless than at any time since the Great Depression" and that between 1979 and 1989, a time at which the gross national product (GNP) increased more than 25 percent, "the rate of child poverty increased by 21 percent in the United States."
Poverty sucks. We know that. But what can we do about it? It seems that the more we try to produce solutions, the wider the trouble begins to spread. What's more, it turns out that some of our solutions may be exacerbating the problem. Or so Goudzwaard and de Lange argue in their 1995 book Beyond Poverty and Affluence: Toward an Economy of Care. The authors believe that the traditional economic view that "restoration of industrial production growth will remedy poverty, environmental degeneration, and unemployment," is "thoroughly simplistic" because "like a virus that has developed a resistance or immunity to the cure ... these economic malaises have now become immune to the remedy of increased production growth."
In their short, thoughtful book, the authors articulately lay out the framework for an economic model that is more accountable than the traditional economic view that "rejects any possibility of assigning the responsibility for economic damages and ailments to their economic agents." Instead we should embrace an economics of enough by adopting "income and employment levels (and with them, indirectly, production and consumption levels) in such a way that they serve the objectives of providing sufficient care for human subsistence needs, the quality of labor, the sustainability of agricultural and urban ecosystems, and improved development opportunities, especially for the poorest countries of the Third World."
The noble goal of the authors is to get us to rethink our priorities. And our top three priorities should be meeting the needs of the poor, reorienting the priorities of the rich, and giving weight to the needs of future generations. All good and righteous deeds, for sure. But as Goudzwaard and de Lange observe, we're just too damn busy to pay attention to what's going on around us. "In the midst of wealth," they write, "we have less and less time on our hands, and we find our daily activities more harried than ever before."