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  • How Much is Enough?

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau retreated for two years, two months and two days to a small cabin on land owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson—14 acres along the shores of Walden Pond, deep in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts. It was an experiment in minimalist living and exploring natural simplicity, harmony and beauty. Some 165 years later, William Powers, a 21st century environmentalist and minimalist, conducted a similar, if briefer, experiment, living in a 12-foot-by-12-foot cabin in a far more developed—though still off-the-grid—wilderness of rural North Carolina, hoping to find a place "beyond the American dream."

As Powers and others in the West look for ways to reduce consumption and promote sustainability, many in the developing world are moving in the opposite direction, hoping to take full advantage of their newfound purchasing power—a revolution of rising expectations.

As these currents collide, World Policy Journal thought it would be exciting to explore the question, "How much is enough?" The answers drive decisions, policies, and behaviors all over the world—from the most poverty-stricken rural villages, where subsistence on a dollar a day is a way of life; to cities on every continent, growing along with their emerging middle classes; to the gilded enclaves of the most privileged, for whom the minimum is never sufficient. [End Page 1]

As usual, we open with The Big Question, asking experts from around the world about the meaning and measurement of "quality of life." Then, William Powers sets the stage with his essay on the need for personal restraint, followed by a counterpoint from World Policy Journal editorial board member Mira Kamdar, who asks whether those who have done without for so long should now be deprived of the good life that is nearly within their grasp. In between, we look at the Anatomy of a Dollar a Day, to better understand how an individual on the barest subsistence allocates each penny. We then profile the middle class of three countries where annual GDP per capita is roughly $400 (Liberia), $4,000 (Indonesia), and $40,000 (the Netherlands). In our Conversation, Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto takes as a point of departure his campaign to secure the rights of the disenfranchised around the world to the land where they work or live. Thea Johnson, who spent two years teaching the privileged in Ecuador, provides a vivid description of Quito's closed upper-crust society, which has managed to hang on to its perks and privileges for generations. Finally, development specialist Kenneth E. Barden, who last explored for us the role of shariah microfinance in Palestine, takes us to Kiribati, in the remote South Pacific—a nation in danger of extinction that is seeking a path to survival for its 100,000 citizens.

On other subjects, our Portfolio photographer, Saiful Huq Omi, spent two years chronicling the heartbreaking plight of Burma's Rohingya refugees, fleeing religious persecution for their Islamic faith. Omi brings us remarkable images of the Rohingya who fled across the border to Bangladesh, where life is better—but just barely. German sociologist and post-conflict expert Michael Daxner visits Afghanistan, a region he knows well and last chronicled two years ago for World Policy Journal. He now holds out little hope for a successful end to the Western intervention that began almost 10 years ago, noting that the death of Osama bin Laden reminds us how much our goals in Afghanistan have changed since then. Accompanying this perspective, Patricia DeGennaro investigates one of the root causes of America's struggles abroad—the massive funding disparities and lack of coordination between diplomats and the military.

From Egypt, Jenna Krajeski chronicles the emergence of a new political class of young secular democrats, and considers whether Egypt's liberals can survive in the post-Mubarak era. Meanwhile, across the Mediterranean, a debt crisis is challenging Greece in ways that Ioannis Grigoriadis believes will require major changes in the Greek psyche and the nation's entire way of life. Heidi Brown finds that, when it comes to alcoholism, Russia has evolved only marginally from the communist...


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