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Wolfgang Sachs put his glasses back on 24 times during a half hour of his talk today.

Most of what he said was stuff I'd already heard before about the relationship between development and environmental sustainability and the need to find a different goal than raising the GDP. But something about the way he was talking got me thinking about it in these terms:

Take as our starting point that our goal is to make people happy. Happiness is caused when what you have matches up with what you want. If what you have and what you want don't match, you can do one of two things (or a combination). You can get more, or you can want less. In general terms, the idea of development, and of the modern economy in general, is to take wants -- even infinite wants -- as given, and then try to work with the supply side of the equation (which is not at all to imply that pre-modern wanys of doing things were therefore the opposite -- both strategies have been used in varying combinations throughout history, and we just happen to live in a time and place where "have more" usually trumps "want less"). And at this point I'm sure you've guessed where I'm going with this. The key is getting people to honestly want less, rather than thinking of it as just having less while wanting the same (which would decrease happiness, thus moving us farther from the goal). Now, it's easy enough to say that people need to think differently. The problem is creating social structures that encourage people to act accordingly. And I think that's where most development critics fail. The best they can do is proposals like trade restrictions that would make us have less.


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