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Our Supersized Society + Low Marginal Utility

our supersized society -

Thoughts about our supersized society, too many Beanie Babies, diminishing marginal utility, and a single stick of candy that needs to lasts throughout the year.

“Dream a Little Dream: Bill McKibben on Reforming Our Supersized Society,”
Alexis Adams Interview with Bill McKibben, The Sun, October 2006

“[In the Laura Ingalls Wilder books,] there are poignant descriptions of [children] trying to decide whether to eat [their single stick of candy] all at once or stretch it out for months. In that kind of world, it’s easy to see why people wanted more.

I was in China last summer and spent a day in a factory where young people were making shower curtains. It was not Dickensian; most of the workers I talked to thought of the job as a step up. I toured the female workers’ dormitories and noticed that a lot of them had stuffed animals on their beds.

I remember making small talk with one woman and asking whether she had a stuffed animal. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she told me no; she really liked stuffed animals, but she sent every penny she earned back home to put her brother through engineering school. Needless to say, I went out and bought her the largest stuffed animal I could find in that corner of China. This made her incredibly happy.

My daughter likes stuffed animals, too, and must have seventy-five little Beanie Babies in her room. Though she’s perfectly happy to get one more, it has what economists would call ‘low marginal utility.’ One more, in her case, is a remarkably small gift.

Like her, we’re long past the point where more is doing us any good. …”

Read the entire Dream a Little Dream interview in The Sun here. Read Bill McKibben’s book Hundred Dollar Holiday (tips on how to return to a simpler and more enjoyable holiday) here.

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