Is minimalism immoral?

I came across a simple but important question on Quora: Is it wrong to aspire to be a minimalist? Doesn’t this negatively affect the country’s GDP?

I see two big lessons here: 1) wise use of metrics requires wisdom… i.e. appropriate interpretation and critical thinking. 2) Maximization is just one version of one part of the whole story. (There are also important questions to ask about what we can expect from others, but I’ll leave that for the comments.)

Readers of NOL should be familiar with the notion that GDP is only an imperfect proxy for well being. But not everyone is so we have to repeat ourselves. There’s what we’re after, and there’s what we can measure, and the two are not the same. GDP is a really clever way to aggregate total production in an economy, but production is only valuable to the extent we’re producing the things that actually improve people’s lives. It’s easy for busy people to confuse a proxy measure for the latent variable we actually care about, so we need someone whispering in the emperor’s ear “the metric is not the mission.

Economics is easier to describe using the simplifying assumption that people want more stuff. It’s easy to forget that people also want more leisure (and so less work). This is a subtle reappearance of the seen and unseen. We can see when someone gets a cool new car and we can’t see when someone has a fun evening with friends and family. We have to check our bias towards trying to get more stuff and remember that reducing work is another feature of human flourishing.

2 thoughts on “Is minimalism immoral?

  1. I think if you put minimalism against GDP it makes sense, but GDP tends to give profit to 1% more so than everybody else. Also, GDP is relative so it decreases globalization. Depends on how capitalist you wanna be. Consumerism creates waste. Ads create low self-esteem. Wealthy people tend to have too much living space compared to 3rd world countries where people are crammed on top of each other. It also makes me think about food waste and industrialized diseases like eating disorders. Minimalism is a balance as long as it is not preachy and accepts the way everyone lives differently.

  2. Great post. Personally I’m strongly against GDP being used as a means of measuring a nation’s ”success” since a lot of negative things can increase GDP, including poor mental and physical health and environmental destruction. Minimalism is likely to ‘negatively’ impact GDP, but positively impact things like a population’s wellbeing, the prevalence of mental health issues, the rate that a country destroys natural resources etc. Ultimately the countries with the highest GDP score pretty terribly in studies that aim to measure happiness, and personally I think happiness is priceless!

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