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University of Utah professor advocates steady-state economy

Hans Ehrbar, a University of Utah economy professor, thinks America needs a completely different economy in light of the downturn it has gone through the past two years.

But it's an economy that values happiness and fulfillment above income and consumption. In a steady-state economy, a worker's output and capital are equal to the worker's input, none of which changes over time. It's an alternative economy that's meant to eliminate the rat-race for more, more, more — more income, more savings, more possessions.

Ehrbar and other supporters of a steady-state economy, who gathered at the Salt Lake City Main Library Wednesday night, know it's a world that's starkly different than the one they live in.

"We need a public consensus that we want to consume less, that we want a smaller economy," Ehrbar said. In a steady-state economy, there would likely be a cap on wealth and income, so no one is earning more than 100 times as much as the poorest citizens. There would also be much more regulation on trade on all levels, so that everyone is producing, consuming and owning less.

Ehrbar and Tim DeChristopher, a U. student and environmental advocate, admitted there would be a lot of public push back against such an idea. Rand Hirschi pointed out that a stead-state economy is basically asking Americans to be poorer. But most of the 25 Utahns at the meeting, organized by the activist group Citizens for Sustainability, said that a steady-state economy would mean a better quality of life for everyone in it.

When DeChristopher wanted to start a garden, instead of buying his own tools at Home Depot, he realized he could borrow some from his neighbors.

"I realized I could have gotten to know my neighbors better or have a garage full of tools," he said. By not spending money on tools, he could have kept the economy from growing. It doesn't in steady-state, since everything is taxed, regulated or capped so it's kept in equilibrium.

But such a change won't happen without a grass-roots effort, said Jordan Richmond, a member of Citizens for Sustainability. If the sales pitch emphasizes quality of life, community and reducing the importance and trade of material possessions to bring people closer together, the equal and communal nature of a steady-state economy, it has a better chance at being sold to the public.

"Most people's real values are already on community," especially in Utah, DeChristopher said. "It's about defining richness that isn't based on our consumption."

e-mail: mmcfall@desnews.com