More from Less

The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources―and What Happens Next

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I was inspired to get this book from the author's appearance on Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast last year. The good folks at the Interlibrary Loan desk at the University Near Here wangled a copy from Rivier U, just down the road in Nashua. (Which seems to do a better job obtaining books than UNH, just sayin'.)

Andrew McAfee, the author, is from MIT's Sloan School of Management, so he's no dummy, and his book is decent. His primary thesis is that for (roughly) the past half century, there's been an interesting economic trend toward "dematerialization": see the title, we're literally doing more with less. The large scale argument is that our prosperity is evolving away from moving huge amounts of heavy atoms (e.g., steel, concrete, hydrocarbons) around. Instead, we're doing "more" with electrons (very low mass) and photons (zero mass). Including the electrons moving around inside our heads (aka "human capital").

Cool! And very convincing, and optimistic.

There's more, though. McAfee is no Pollyanna. (It would have been a much shorter book if he had stuck to the Pollyanna stuff.) He's a big believer in Climate Change, hence he's all in on a carbon tax, cap-and-trade, basically whatever it takes. Also pollution (of all sorts), species extinction, alienation, deaths of despair, etc.

That's the bad news, but he's also willing to gore a few progressive oxen: he's all for embracing global capitalism, immunization, nuclear energy, glyphosate, and GMOs.

McAfee's style is kind of gee-whiz, USA Today-level. Although I enjoyed the book, it would also be accessible by a bright high schooler or a college kid. (Both of whom would probably benefit.)

Most interestingly, he's literally put his money where his mouth is: a series of bets at the (very cool) site (Example: "Over the five years leading up to 2029, the US will use less iron and steel than it did over the five years leading up to 2019, and the material will be more affordable to the world’s average person over the later period than the earlier one.") You can bet against him if you want. I wouldn't.

Last Modified 2024-01-23 2:06 PM EDT