Any Way You Slice It

The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing

A compelling explanation of a much-maligned concept in an era of ecological crises and growing inequality, from the author of the highly acclaimed Losing Our Cool

“Rationing is certainly the third rail of American politics.” —Leonard J. Nelson III, Journal of Health & Biomedical Law, 2011

Rationing: it’s a word—and idea—that people seem to fear and hate in equal measure. Health care expert Henry Aaron has compared mentioning the possibility of rationing to “shouting an obscenity in church.” Yet societies ration food, water, medical care, and fuel all the time, with those who can pay the most getting the most. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen has said, the results can be “thoroughly unequal and nasty.”

In Any Way You Slice It, Stan Cox shows that fair-shares rationing is not just a quaint practice restricted to World War II memoirs and stories of gas-station lines in the 1970s. Instead, he persuasively argues that how we ration is a crucial issue in our fragile present, an era of dwindling resources and environmental crises. Any Way You Slice It takes us on a fascinating search for alternative ways of apportioning life’s necessities, from the wartime goal of “fair shares for all” in the 1940s to present-day water rationing in a Mumbai slum, from the bread shops of Cairo to the struggle for fairness in American medicine and carbon rationing on Norfolk Island in the Pacific. And in this provocative and thoughtful book Cox asks: can we limit consumption while assuring everyone a fair share?

The author of Losing Our Cool, the much-debated and widely acclaimed examination of air-conditioning’s many impacts, here turns his attention to the politically explosive topic of how we share our planet’s resources.


“A cool and cogent analysis of a taboo subject . . . a brilliant opening of a global dialogue on who gets what, when, why, and how.”
—David W. Orr, Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, Oberlin College
“An iconoclast of the best kind, Stan Cox has an all-too-rare commitment to following arguments wherever they lead, however politically dangerous that turns out to be. In this richly informative and deeply courageous book, he tackles one of the greatest taboos of our high-consumer culture: the need to consume less and to fairly share what’s left.”
—Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine
“Today, rationing is about as acceptable a topic of conversation as hemorrhoids. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. In fact, we do it every day and our reluctance to admit it serves us poorly. From death panels to water wars, Any Way You Slice It explains with wit and sophistication how rationing happens. More important, Stan Cox gives us the tools to talk about rationing sensibly. And if we heed him, those conversations will not only be better informed, but might even lead to a better democracy.”
—Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing
“The warning signs are flashing ominously everywhere you turn: warming climate, swelling populations, dwindling water supplies, rising food costs, a host of new deadly diseases, and a widening chasm between the super-rich and the destitute. The ecological crisis afflicting the planet has mutated into a savage political and economic crisis that threatens to erode the very foundations of human culture. Time is running out for incremental, piecemeal solutions to these looming global threats. In Any Way You Slice It, Stan Cox offers a way out through a kind of ethical and rational triage. He maps out a plan to ration the Earth’s shrinking resources in a way that is socially just and ecologically sane. This brave book is not for the timid or those frozen by political taboos, but it is a must-read for those who want to forge real change before the ecological doomsday clock strikes midnight.”
—Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of CounterPunch and author of Born Under a Bad Sky

News and Reviews


Q&A with Stan Cox on rationing in Alternet

The New York Times

Stan Cox writes about rationing in The New York Times' "Room for Debate"


Counterpunch reviews Any Way You Slice It

Books by Stan Cox

How the World Breaks
Life in Catastrophe’s Path, from the Caribbean to Siberia

Stan Cox, Paul Cox

Losing Our Cool
Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer)

Stan Cox

Goodreads Reviews