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The Politics of Simple Living

Why Our Economy Is Making Life Worse
and How We Can Make It Better

A Preservation Institute Book


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"It's about time! Charles Siegel's insightful book on sustainable policy foresees a future in which each of us consumes less and enjoys it more, because we have more time and more choices. Many of his ideas are common sense, pragmatically redefining what we mean by growth and success. By shifting the direction of policies involving work, urban design, health care, and environmental stewardship, we can create a more sensible, less destructive world - just in time."

- David Wann, author of Affluenza, Simple Prosperity, and The New Normal


"With striking clarity and common sense, Charles Siegel offers a real way forward from our economic and environmental crises, one that can make America more fair, more livable, happier, and more sustainable."

- John de Graaf, co-author: What's the Economy For, Anyway?


“Siegel has written a provocative corrective to liberal progressivism and the mainstream environmental movement’s politics of climate change. Offering a positive, hopeful vision of a post-consumerist society, Siegel shows that the economic growth prized by both conservatives and liberals now brings more costs than benefits. While acknowledging the continuing need to use progressive tax policy to help raise living standards for the poor, Siegel argues for a new 'preservationist' agenda: a more spacious and leisurely life off the tread-mill of endless 'work and spend.'"

- Prof. Charles Derber, Boston College, author of Greed to Green: Solving Climate Change and Remaking the Economy, and Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States


“In his excellent, upbeat new book, The Politics of Simple Living, Charles Siegel updates the conservative understanding of economic progress as human advance beyond the economy, into the realm of freedom. Noting that perpetual economic growth, as traditionally understood, is not sustainable, Siegel offers sound public policy remedies that might channel the market’s energy in the healthier, sustainable direction of ‘simple living’ and conviviality."

- Prof. Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, University of Iowa, author of Work Without End and Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream


A Green Majority

Our political thinking has not caught up with the unprecedented economic change that happened in America during the twentieth century, the change from a scarcity economy to a surplus economy. We need a new politics of simple living, with policies such as:

  • Work-Time Choice: Today, most people have no choice but to take full-time jobs, because most part-time jobs have lower hourly pay and no benefits. We need policies that let us choose part-time work, so people have the option of consuming less and having more free time.
  • Neighborhood Choice: Since World War II, federal freeway policies and local zoning laws forced most American cities to be rebuilt as low-density sprawl where people cannot leave their houses without driving. We need to build walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods, so people have the option of reducing the huge economic burden of automobile dependency.
  • Child-Care Choice: Today, we subsidize families who use day care, but we do nothing to help families who work shorter hours to care for their own children. We should give families with preschool children a tax credit that they could use to pay for day care or could use to work shorter hours and have more time to care for their own children.

The politics of simple living would help solve environmental problems such as global warming, and would offer a vision of a better future. These policies could give us a green majority.