Small Is Beautiful

In a sputtering economy, with young adults facing years of bleak employment prospects and middle-income jobs in decline, our aspirations are changing.

In short, ’tis hip to be simple.

Image source: jakndaxta on deviantART
Image source: jakndaxta on deviantART

We live in a “new world of less,” writes J. Walker Smith, executive chairman of The Futures Company, in a post for Branding Strategy Insider. Many Americans, particularly Millennials, “have taken an aspirational view of this daunting situation by embracing the idea that living with less is acceptable, if not preferable.”

Specifically, we’re acquiring fewer possessions or shedding the ones we have, turning to barter, taking up “microgigs,” living in smaller places, driving less and even having smaller families. “This is sure to be a challenge, and not just because less is a hard way to grow,” Smith writes. “Less has long been seen as counter to the American spirit.”

But that may change. The world simply isn’t producing more land or natural resources, even as demand increases, and a new mindset may be necessary for survival. Smith writes: “Making it is not about making more; it’s about making more of less.”

Peter Drucker probably would have pointed out that eras of simplicity have come and gone, often in concert with economic conditions. In the 1970s, conservation and paring down were likewise in vogue, as Drucker noted in The Unseen Revolution, published in the middle of that decade. In fact, even the names haven’t necessarily changed, with Drucker deeming “austerity” to be a “newly fashionable term favored by such ‘populist liberals’ as Governor Brown in California.”

But Drucker didn’t dismiss the thinking behind it. As he wrote, “The very fact that the term has gained such wide currency and has such voter appeal clearly reveals that the limits of economic resources and economic production, rather than their abundance, is becoming the central issue in American economic policy.”

Are we entering a new economy of “less”—and, if so, how might it affect your life?