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Step back and explore the plenitude

Boston College professor of sociology Juliet Schor is also an "occasional economist" and co-editor of Sustainable Planet: Solutions for the 21st Century.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: After two years of economic stress, a lot of people are feeling pretty beat up. They've lost money; they've lost jobs and homes. They don't know what's coming next economy-wise. That's enough to make a lot of people want to rethink their priorities.

And Boston College sociologist Juliet Schor says we ought to do just that. In her new book "Plenitude," she says we have everything we need right now to start living more sustainable lives. I asked her where we ought to start.


JULIET SCHOR: First thing we need to recognize is that sources of well being come from time, from our social connections, and from living in balance with the earth. So in order to actually live lives of true abundance we're going to have to change the way we use natural resources, the way we pollute and so forth.

KIA RYSDALL: You know, when you start talking about those kinds of things. About changing the way we live. About making better use of our time and our resources. A lot of people take that to mean we have to sacrifice, we have to do without some things. Is that what you're saying?

SCHOR: That's exactly what I'm trying to get away from, that interpretation. It's why I called the book "Plentitude," because I think we've gone in the direction of impoverishing ourselves and not doing ourselves justice by sort of excessive work and spend. And the debt-fueled version of that is even worse because that adds a whole new layer of anxiety on top of it.

But one of the things we see is that the people who have begun to live like this have more time affluence in their lives and are able to do a wide range of things that are really creative, productive, kinds of things that you can do if you don't have to spend every waking hour at your formal job.

RYSDALL: These people you point to, they are you say making more things and consuming less.

SCHOR: We'll they're buying fewer new things. But yes, they are doing over in homesteading. They're growing vegetables. Or they might be keeping poultry. Or they're involved in small-scale energy generation. So they're learning to meet their needs with less cash, with more of their own labor and more creativity, and in a way that they believe is a lot more stable and secure for them.

RYSDALL: And that sounds really attractive, but if you are a school teacher, or if you work at a green technology factory making solar panels you have to be there a certain number of hours every day. Where do you find the ability to step back and explore this plentitude.

SCHOR: One of the things that I think we need to look at as a society is reduce the number of hours per job in the formal economy to give people more time to do this. Part of what's happening is that at early stages of careers people are moving into jobs that don't require so many hours that they can't also be engaged in these other kinds of things. So college graduates come out of school, and they want an 80 percent job; they want a four-day work week.

RYSDALL: Can this idea of plentitude and the way you lay it out of people doing more by themselves. Can that work at scale? I mean, there's a reason that Walmart works in this economy. Because those things work broadly across an enormous economy, and they make a lot of money.

SCHOR: The advantages of the large scale are disappearing. This is a result largely of information technology but also of growing literacy and numeracy among the population. If you look at where the innovation and dynamism in our economy has come, where the jobs have come, we know that has been at the small scale. We know that new technologies allow you to do things, which were not possible. It used to be that you needed a giant warehouse to put a computer in, now you need a lap. A huge message of my book is small is beautiful, let's try and shift this economy in the direction of the small scale. That's going to be a more resilient economy.

It's not an accident that the financial system that collapsed was a highly, highly centralized financial system.

RYSDALL: Juliet Schor is a professor of sociology at Boston College. Here book about where the U.S. and the global economy need to go from here is called "Plentitude: The New Economics of True Wealth." Thanks very much.

SCHOR: My pleasure.

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