*More from Less*

The author is Andrew McAfee and the subtitle is The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources — And What Happens Next.

I am a fan of Andrew’s work more generally, and most of all I am pleased to announce this is a book full of good economic reasoning.  From the publisher’s attachment:

How did we start getting more from less?  Largely because of two unlikely heroes: capitalism and technological progress.  As the book explains, capitalism’s relentless quest for profits is also an endless search for lower costs — after all, a penny saved is a penny earned — and natural resources cost money.  Tech progress gives companies countless opportunities to dematerialize: to use bits instead of atoms, and so consume fewer resources even as they grow.

I have yet to read my way through all of the book, and I will be reporting more on this.  I can assure you, however, that Andrew is not a denialist on the issues where worry really is called for.  Here is the Marc Andreessen blurb:

“In More from Less Andrew McAfee conclusively demonstrates how environmentalism requires more technology and capitalism, not less. Our modern technologies actually dematerialize our consumption, giving us higher human welfare with lower material inputs. This is an urgently needed and clear-eyed view of how to have our technological cake and eat it too.”

In any case, I wanted to bring this book to your attention as soon as possible.


Wait, so the Amish Socialist Party of America (ASP) have it wrong? That doesn't sound right

The Republican Party of America is already blaming video games for the El Paso shooting and encryption for Dayton shooter. So begins the shredding of every American right to appease the gun nuts. The Republican war on Xbox and math begins!

And after the 2A is gone, government can then eliminate all the other nutty policies in the Bill of Rights without obstruction.

Why do I come to a page on dematerialization, and have to suffer fools who have not internalized American weapon laws of 1938?

"fools who have not internalized American weapon laws of 1938?"

Is this word salad, or what?

Try googling "American weapon laws of 1938" genius.

The FFA established that the government can restrict the *kind* of guns we can own, without violating the "2A."

The n2nd amendment did NOT give us gun rights. What it did was to state in no uncertain terms that we HAD gun rights and the government could not infringe on them. Everything since then that infringes on gun rights is unconstitutional without regard to who disagrees.

This would just be another "lol, comments" if the death toll were not so high.

Since 1938 it has required a federal license for a fully automatic weapon. So, we could do that for semi-automatics. It is established under the law.

Not overruled, and as far as I know, not even challenged since 1938.

Anon is correct and you are not.

The Declaration of Independence clearly states that governments should exist only to secure "inalienable" rights. The government does not bestow rights, it only protects them.

Not all the founders agreed that the Bill of Rights was necessary - the powers of government were clearly stated in the Constitution and all powers not specifically stated belonged to the people or the states. IAC, they decided to write the Bill of Rights. The first was obvious to them - freedom of religion, the press, and speech. The second was equally obvious, the ability to protect oneself from tyrannical governments, like the British Parliament, King George III, and King Charles I. The English Bill of Rights, after the Glorious Revolution, included the right to bear arms.

The 1938 law can be challenged and repealed with the right SCOTUS.

We are working on that.

And now #Oslo.

He used a shotgun and two pistols.

Do you want to hang those?

Your shtick a week ago was that there was no global trend.

Guns are probably less than half the problem at this point.

See also FBI preventative arrests in Nevada and Florida.

White supremacists were responsible for *ALL* race-based domestic terrorism in 2018. 100%.

Trump’s DoJ & Barr then worked **to hide that report from Congress**-all while defunding federal programs to combat white supremacist violence.

This is a white supremacist friendly administration.

What to do?

Here's a lefty , antifa sympathizng mass shooter. What to do?

I'm sure Democrats are ready to reject devil worshipping violent misogynists and discard their votes.

Too bad Trump can't do the same with nazis.

You are clearly dizzy and spending too much time in your spin machine.

Do you have receipts?


anonymous is correct, white supremacist violence is on the rise, obviously. Trump is one cause. I award him 10 internet points.

"after the 2A is gone, government can then eliminate all the other nutty policies in the Bill of Rights "

Is that what happened in other democracies with gun control? History suggests not.

Switzerland and the US, two countries with democracies that are among the oldest and also the deepest (in what the people really decides), have in common an heavily armed populace. Democracy with strict gun control tend to have a much more recent, and also a much more chaotic, history.

[Also, the Roman republic lasted long and had an armed (and trained for war) people.]

Of course, correlation is not causation. For instance, it is difficult to imagine how more arms in the populace would have prevented the arrival to power of the Nazis in Germany in 1933. In Spain in 1936, however, when the army rebelled against the elected government, it is clear that a more armed and trained populace would have helped the republican
side -- perhaps not enough to win the war, but who knows?

So, I wouldn't say that history clearly suggests gun controls cause no harm to the continuation of democracy. It is not clear what it suggests, but it has to be more complicated than that.

My Swiss friend scoffed every time he heard this. The gun and ammo block for civil defense are sealed. You tear them open on orders only - or you are in big trouble. Hunting and target shooting are more difficult and regulated. Not at all the same as fetishists with a loaded AR on their backs as they order a Starbucks.

If you are ready to take arms against your own government because you think it is becoming tyrannic, surely you are also ready to break an official seal in order to do it. In other words, it doesn't change anything to the argument "weapons prevent tyranny" that the arms are sealed.

"I do as the army advises and I keep the barrel separately from my pistol," he explains seriously. "I keep the barrel in the basement so if anyone breaks into my apartment and finds the gun, it's useless to them."

He shakes out the gun holster. "And we don't get bullets any more," he adds. "The Army doesn't give ammunition now - it's all kept in a central arsenal." This measure was introduced by Switzerland's Federal Council in 2007


But over the last 20 years, now that the majority of soldiers don't have ammunition at home, we have seen a decrease in gun violence and a dramatic decrease in gun-related suicides. Today we see maybe 200 gun suicides per year and it used to be 400, 20 years ago,

Seems to be a continuation of a decline since 1980. Total suicide rate - who cares how they do it.

Well, if we eliminate guns, or more carefully restrict their distribution and use, then many suicides of impulse will be prevented, and there will be fewer guns around for nutjobs to use them.

There are many common sense rules we could employ that do not violate the 2nd amendment, but the gun lobby will not allow it.

Bullshit: 'Well, if we eliminate guns, or more carefully restrict their distribution and use, then many suicides of impulse will be prevented'
Trend stayed the same, just like ever other time gun control was introduced.

As for 'common sense' gun control. Most anti-bill-of-rightists propose controls that have been law for quite some time, or are harshly authoritarian. Anyone thinking machine guns are legal or there is a such thing as 'assault weapons' are disqualified from any common sense discussion.

There are many common sense rules we could employ that do not violate the 2nd amendment, but the gun lobby will not allow it.

Odd how the amount of fossil fuels being burned every year has done nothing but increase during several generations, even as 'dematerialization' has occurred. This is American data for gasoline use - https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MGFUPUS1&f=A Plenty of other data options available, but there is zero evidence we are doing more with less when it comes to something like transportation. We may be doing more with more, but somehow that does not seem to fit the narrative.

It's a 5-6% decline in gasoline use per capita since 2000. Not a huge decline, but at least it's going the right way. Since the average cost of a new car in the US is now $36,000 I expect gasoline use to fall rapidly as electric cars can provide better performance than comparably priced conventional vehicle along with lower operating costs.

'It's a 5-6% decline in gasoline use per capita since 2000.'

Except, the EIA data says the annual amount of U.S. supplied gasoline was 3,100,774 thousand barrels in 2000. In 2018, the amount was 3,401,515. Regardless of how one looks at it, the increase was essentially 10% in absolute terms. Doing more with more is not a decline.

This is not exactly an example of Jevon's Paradox in certain ways - there is no actual conservation going on in absolute terms, and there is no sign that the actual savings in individual vehicle efficiency are leading to a decline in use . This is particularly true when one factors in automotive diesel use supplanting at least some previous gasoline use, but that data is basically not possible to distinguish at that level. And also not really an example of Jevon's Paradox either. Basically, we are not even close to freezing the amount of transportation fuel burned, much less reducing it.

Looking at the graph of passenger car efficiency in the US on average they are doing more kilometers per liter of gasoline. That is doing more with less. Of course, this assumes the Americans aren't up to their usual tricks of driving around in passenger trucks and saying they don't count in fuel efficiency figures because they're not cars.

But if the US just reduced car performance down to say 1983 levels they could cut gasoline use by about 40%. About half their gasoline use is spent on compensating for not having a huge fast car and air conditioning.

'That is doing more with less.'

However, the total amount of gasoline burned per year increases. That is the fundamental point - regardless of any efficiency gains, the U.S. is burning 10% more gasoline per year in 2018 than in 2000.

'this assumes the Americans aren't up to their usual tricks of driving around in passenger trucks and saying they don't count in fuel efficiency figures because they're not cars'

Oh yes, the way the figures are massaged is amazing, if one is not familiar with how that developed over the past several decades. However, the EIA gasoline figures simply reflect what was delivered, without any reference to vehicle type.

'But if the US just reduced car performance down to say 1983 levels'

The amazing thing is just how unbelievably overpowered American vehicles are. Cannot ask the person who told me this, but basically, the Mercedes C Klasse built in Tuscaloosa for the American market start with the (second?) largest engine. However, the cars sold in Germany seem to do just fine getting up to 200kph using the smallest engine. It is truly bizarre to see just how much waste American cars represent, in a place where you can not drive anywhere near as fast as on stretches of the autobahn. This person also laughed at the 'towing' excuse, by the way.

"This person also laughed at the 'towing' excuse, by the way."

It's not really an excuse. The tow ratings assigned to U.S. vehicles are much lower. And it's not just U.S. manufacturers -- VW, for example, puts much lower tow ratings on the exact same models in the U.S. than in the EU. You can ignore the rating, but that puts you in potential legal and insurance coverage jeopardy (along with voiding your warranty). So you actually do need a much larger, more powerful vehicle in the U.S. to tow an RV or boat.

'It's not really an excuse.'

Sure, lots of Americans are using a C Class Mercedes to tow a boat or RV. Or are they?

I would assume the number of American using a C class Mercedes to tow is roughly 0 -- given that, as far as I can tell, Mercedes doesn't rate the U.S. model for towing at all. Can you find a tow-rating here?

C class customers in the U.S. are luxury-car customers. Mercedes doesn't sell (and U.S. customers wouldn't buy) a luxury car with a small, low-powered engine. And neither would Europeans if it weren't for high fuel and emissions taxes. Also Mercedes doesn't sell (and U.S. customers would not buy) a non-luxury Mercedes intended to compete with a Toyota Camry (German cars are too unreliable and expensive to repair to be competitive in that niche -- VW is a distant also-ran in the U.S. with a longstanding poor reputation for reliability).

But for Americans who do want to tow, they have to buy a bigger vehicle than Europeans for the same size trailer. For them, a bigger engine and vehicle is not an excuse.

This is the fundamental point. Or second only to the fact China is also doing more with less with ... more.

I don't understand why people who, ultimately, think of themselves as conservatives compared to the actual alternatives, have such a problem with the idea of conservation of resources.

The U.S. population is 328M versus 281M in 2000. That's almost a 17% increase so if gasoline consumption is 10% higher you can see there is a "doing more with less" phenomenon.

Finally we are back to Crikey's point about a reduction per capita - and there has been, no question However, the fact remains unchanged we are using more gasoline now than in 2000, which makes the 'less' part of 'more from less' a matter of perspective. Efficiency has gone up - so has consumption.

We are using more gasoline due to the increasing population due to immigration - which YOU support.

On the topic of population, what are your thoughts on contraception? Yay or nay?



"But if the US just reduced car performance down to say 1983 levels they could cut gasoline use by about 40%. About half their gasoline use is spent on compensating for not having a huge fast car and air conditioning."

I don't quite understand this sentence, but it seems to me the average car in every weight class - even the Japanese models where gasoline usage is a selling point unlike the trucks that are now all over cities, at least down here - get bigger with every passing year - since the 80s at least. So we're doing the same thing with more steel.

Or: the minivan. I thought for awhile there was some sort of private shuttle service working in the area, then realized that moms had begun driving these huge Mercedes vans.

Don't blame the efficiency gains for the safety arms race, but don't assume that increasing the size of our vehicles across the board was the smartest thing we could have done with those gains.

Increased energy efficiency is a marvel, but to have any meaningful connection to the environment they'd have to be coupled to common sense, which seems no more likely now than when everyone laughed at Jimmy Carter when he suggested people put on a sweater.

The chattering class uniformly thought it was the dumbest thing he ever said, when in fact it was probably the smartest.

Jimmy Carter didn't understand energy markets at all. These were the dumb comments he made as he wore that sweater in 1977:

“The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out.”

“Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980s the world will be demanding more oil than it can produce.”

“World oil production can probably keep going up for another six or eight years. But some time in the 1980s it can’t go up much more. Demand will overtake production. We have no choice about that.”

“We can’t substantially increase our domestic production…”

“Within ten years we would not be able to import enough oil—from any country, at any acceptable price.”

“If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.”

No, I expect not. That would hardly make him unique. If only markets were the only thing that was needed to understand, it would all be so much simpler, and economists are all we would need to run things. (With apologies to our gracious host.)

True. I was going to add that Nixon didn't either. Henry Kissinger once said a decade after the 1973 oil 'embargo' that nobody in the Nixon administration understood how oil markets worked, and they panicked.

It was the "malaise" that made Jimmy say those things. He wins the Paul Ehrlich award.

After Jimmy we elected a real president. Thankfully, we have a real POTUS again - no pipeline prevarication anymore.

And from the fella who knocked Jimmy out of the worst post WW2 President spot: 'You can't drill your way...'

I look forward to my electric vehicle. They are better all around for lots of reasons. I don't think we will reduce fossil fuel use after adopting electric cars because much of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, though the replacement of coal by natural gas will help.

It's another story if we shift to nuclear, but the innumerate fwaidy cats will block that.

The median cost of a new car is $31,000 and most Americans don't buy new.

Even people paying the median new car cost are likely to often want an electric car once the early adopters among their friends get one and they see what they can do. There are electric cars and plug in hybrids available for that price now and prices will continue to decline.

You've said lots of idiotic things, but this has to be a new low.

You're confusing absolute emissions with efficiency. The world population is growing, incomes growing, and new uses being found. OF COURSE emissions are going up.

But emissions per person per activity has dropped dramatically. This is obvious with fuel economy of vehicles. My new SUV gets better gas mileage with lower emissions than my first three sedans in the late 80s, early 90s.

'You're confusing absolute emissions with efficiency.'

I said nothing about 'emissions.' If we were discussing that subject, merely supplanting coal with natural gas would lead to cutting CO2 emissions involving electricity generation by 50%.

'But emissions per person per activity has dropped dramatically.'

Simply replacing coal with natural gas causes a dramatic drop. However, do you honestly think that natural gas represents 'dematerialization'? In which case, the transition from wood to coal was at least as impressive, with no technological advance involved at all - at least in England in 1600.

Of course natural gas represents dematerialization. Moving gas is done largely by large scale pipelines the infrastructure costs for doing that are vastly less than the huge coal trains you still see. We get the net product, X joules of electricity, while consuming much less steel, transportation fuel, and all manner of other railroad/mining inputs.

And yes, by far and away moving away from wood was a huge dematerialization. And one driven by technology. After all English coal boom was driven by technology. In the late 16th century you had new methods of digging gravity drainage tunnels. In the 17th there were increasingly sophisticated horse-powered pumps to drain the mines and of course in the early 18th you had the steam engine. There were, of course, also innovations in the delivery of coal. For instance, the first recorded railway was in 1620 for moving coal. And of course there were innovations on the demand side, coal sparking the increased use of steel (dramatically reducing the bulk of iron consumed) but also salt production and glass.

If you look at the sheer bulk of material needed to provide basic energy needs, by far the least efficient is feeding people to use sweat labor. Coal, like wood before it, reduced the amount of stuff needed to sustain civilization.

'And one driven by technology. '

Deforestation, actually. There is a reason that 1600 was used, not 1700.

Yep, except for the pesky fact that improved gravity tunneling began in the 15th century. The pumps were being used before 1600 and continuously improved with animal and hydro power throughout the 1600s. As noted railways were an innovation in 1620, but dedicated coal wagons and barges were a 16th century innovation.

Many places deforested throughout human history, China for instance records many instances of denuded tree cover. Rome went so far as to blame their sewage problems (correctly) on deforestation back in 243, BC.

Somehow deforestation drove the adoption of coal in Britain, but not in Rome. It is almost as though centuries of innovation regarding everything from mathematics to paper to gears and hydraulics were needed to make large scale replacement of wood with coal viable.

I am so glad you are back. Please post more often. We were calling for you on the alcohol thread a couple of days ago.

Three entertaining books on the current topic are:

"The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention"
by William Rosen

"Coal: A Human History" by Barbara Freese.

"The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy"
by Mark P. Mills and Peter W. Huber

I also recommend to anyone, including myself, studying more thermodynamics - the 2nd law cannot be repealed.

To do work, ie moving atoms around, requires entropy to increase.

Simply replacing coal with natural gas causes a dramatic drop. However, do you honestly think that natural gas represents 'dematerialization'?

The energy of natural gas is about 52 gigajoules per kilogram (GJ/kg), whereas the energy of bituminous coal is more like 25 GJ/kg. In other words, natural gas provides approximately twice as much energy per kilogram as coal. And natural gas combined cycle power plants have much higher thermal efficiencies than the coal-fired power plants operating in the United States. So per unit of electricity, the mass of natural gas used is even less than half of the mass of coal used.

Of course, replacing coal with nuclear power would produce even more dematerialization.


P.S. I'm not sure how photovoltaics and wind relate to electricity from natural gas in terms of total use of materials. Certainly photovoltaics would have the potential to be very low material use per unit of electricity delivered to a customer, if the photovoltaics were on the rooftop of the customer, and if the photovoltaics were of a high-efficiency thin-film type. I'm very bullish on perovskite photovoltaics:


Look at the EIA's total CO2 emissions for the US: down 12-14% in total CO2 since peaking in 2007--and carbon intensity relative to GDP is down even more. This is greatly helped by substitution of CH4 for coal in power generation, but efficiency gains are also a significant part of the story (one fun fact on efficiency gains is that airline CO2 emissions per passenger-mile has fallen nearly in half since the early 90s).

Clockwork_prior started with a comment about fossil fuel use, and everyone immediately started talking about gasoline use instead. Of course, gasoline is only one output from fossil fuels. Others are plastics generally, foam for seat cushions, shoe soles, the list is seemingly endless.

He started out with a moronic comment that confused absolute production vs efficiency. Efficiency was the point of the post.

'He started out with a moronic comment that confused absolute production vs efficiency.'

No, I started with a comment pointing out, with gasoline as a concrete example using EIA data, the U.S. is using more gasoline now than in the past, regardless of gains in efficiency.

If you wish to argue that we would be using even more gasoline without those gains, you would be right.

However, there has been zero evidence of 'more from less' in gasoline consumption, as clearly shown by the consumption data. There has simply been more from more.

Odd how the amount of fossil fuels being burned every year has done nothing but increase during several generations, even as 'dematerialization' has occurred.

Per the U.S. EIA on U.S. coal consumption:

U.S. coal consumption has been falling since its peak in 2007, and EIA forecasts that 2018 coal consumption will be 437 MMst (44%) lower than 2007 levels, mainly driven by declines in coal use in the electric power sector.


This story is surprising? I guess America really must be a land of excess.

I mean, we have actual hunter gathers who see the advantage of the whole agriculture and having food in supermarkets thing.

Nowadays one 20 kilogram solar panel can produce as much electrical energy over a 30 year lifespan as can be generated from 4 tonnes of coal.

Comparing a hammer to an apple.

4 tons of coal will produce no electricity. You need a coal power electric generator.

Those are "free" today having been built and paid off decades ago in the US. The cost of mining coal and maintaining the aging free capital is higher than the cost of building new wind turbines. Solar capital costs less than the coal, but the management is higher than for coal power.

But pair the panel with LED lights, cell phones, tablets, and its cheaper much cheaper than runninng wires in much of the world, ignoring the cost of the power plant, orr coal.

I agree that this kind of thing is going to be well understood in some circles, perhaps the technology-informed economic community, or vis versa.

Still, preach brother.

Trivia: when people tried to recycle cooking oil for biofuels, they discovered they were competing with a whole network of renderers already in place.

Do you actually believe that a solar panel will last 30 years?

This is what makes me angry about this stuff. Stop lying. Just stop it.

I was curious, so I did a little more googling.

"For monocrystalline silicon, the most commonly used panel for commercial and residential PV, the degradation rate is less than 0.5% for panels made before 2000, and less than 0.4% for panels made after 2000."

So a modern panel should produce roughly .. geez *point* for percent reduction per year? 99.88 percent output after 30 years seems pretty incredible. There must be some outright failure rates as well.


Oh, I guess I messed up my answer. The total loss of .12 should be multiplied by 100 and subtracted from 100, for 88% production?

Does this homework count for our final grade?

Well, a German solar panel manufacturer agrees with it in a broad sense, but that 88% after 30 years is likely too high - 75% would seem more realistic.

Remember that manufacturers set warranty well below expectations, to give a safety margin against claims.

Do you actually believe that a solar panel will last 30 years?

Solar panel degradation rates appear to average less than 1 percent per year:


A 2012 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that, on average, solar panel output falls by 0.8 percent each year. This rate of decline is called solar panel degradation rate. Though this rate of decline metric will vary depending on which panel brand you buy, premium manufacturers like SunPower offer degradation rates as low as 0.3%. Solar panel degradation rates are constantly improving as solar panel technology gets better over the years, and degradation rates below 1% are common throughout the industry. In the years since this 2012 study was conducted, more efficient technologies have been developed and many newer panels have just a 0.5 percent yearly decline in energy output.

Go to Figure 4 of this document. It shows that, as of 2010, there are now panels that have been producing power for up to 30 years (or 5 years longer than the 25-year warranties that became common circa 2000):


Figure 5 of that document shows that for most photovoltaic panel types, the degradation rates measured in post-2000 panels were lower than in pre-2000 panels.

'Do you actually believe that a solar panel will last 30 years?'

Well, my more than decade old German made panel has a 20 year guarantee that it will produce at least 85% of its rated performance, so sure, 30 years (though with further likely performance degradation) seems realistic enough. How long the controller (a separate item) will last is a different question, and 30 years seems unrealistic for that.

However, Chinese made panels have a very different reputation, so it might matter what sort of panel one buys.

It definitely depends on the panel. A crap one can fall apart in two years. Tier one panels are trusted for use on large scale solar farms and can be expected to last 25+ years, although in a large project there will be failures before that point. If you pay extra for some premium panels I think you can be pretty confident they will still be producing power after 40 years.

Whatever the virtues of capitalism (and there are enough of them, over state run industries), it seems entirely misplaced to imagine that it is particularly less intensive on total resource use.

The simple story that a drive for profits will lower resource use is at odds with an even basic observation that there is plenty of profit in liberating resources to use and at reducing costs to resource exploitation.

Left critiques that a state-run versions would be particularly less exploitative and harmful to the environment are misplaced, but this sort of book seems in the vein of offering a false comfort blanket of reassurance to to the centre-right that there is no need to change intensively consuming lifestyles, as capitalist consumerism and "economic freedom" will sort it all out in the end.

Great states are great because they are built on capitalism.

Adam Smith stated the productivity of a nations people is the wealth of a nation.

Educating a nations people, and starting with children provides the longest period of return on investment, is the greatest form of capitalism.

Transportation is a critical capital asset to a great nation.

Anyone who thinks those can be provided privately has dozens of nations to make great by simply selling the formula of private building of an educated workforce and private transportation system. Say, creating a corporation that educates all its workers from scratch and builds all its transportation capital.

Private railways, airports, etc. all work fairly well. Largely private primary and secondary education probably works fine too.

(Public gets you inefficiency subsidized by states' deep pockets, private a lot of "Keep with the Joneses" signalling nonsense. But broadly similar outcomes.)

The libertarian economists' delusion has tended to be that privatization would provide these goods *much better* to the degree that the public would be happy giving up the perception of democratic control and putting up with higher salaries to careerist teachers and managers, and with significant switching costs. (The public also tend to dislike the fact that nationally subsidised foreign competitors have tended to try and make profits in privatized markets to subsidize services in their home state.)

Instead the gains in the sectors to the "Choice and Competition" drive by proponents of rather magical faith in the forces of economic freedom have usually been marginal, when they have been detectable. This has tended to discredit libertarian leaning economists to the public more generally.

The libertarian delusion is a failure to realize how much the average person values the ability to boss his neighbors around. Some people want to tell everyone else who to sleep with, some want to tell them how much energy they can consume and some want to control how resources are allocated across the whole economy. Very few of them are willing to trust their neighbors to figure it out independently.

Oh, Libertarians do underestimate how much the average idiot; Wants to tell their neighbour how much to drink. Is willing to trust physicians to tell them how much pain medication to take. Is mistrustful of their neighbours ability to listen to free speech and take their own decisions about well studied and understood human differences.

But in the above contexts of education and transport (and probably healthcare), particularly, libertarian economists failed to realize how marginal the gains from choice and competition really were, and over-promised, underdelivered and failed to account that after switching costs, there were little gains to be made.

'would be particularly less exploitative and harmful to the environment are misplaced'

That is possibly too politely formulated. The evidence is that, generally, state run versions are considerably more exploitative and harmful to the environment.

(There can be exceptions - the Chilean copper industry seems to be one, at least till now - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilean_nationalization_of_copper)

The problem with consuming bits is that the world's biggest governments and corporations know how to track every little action that takes place online. This information asymmetry not only destroys markets but destroys liberty.

This also goes somewhat against Thiel's idea that atoms are where the real innovation will be. I'm also pessimistic on this idea as anything that can be created physically can be easily copied by China. The I-phone is a masterful device but so is a Samsung Galaxy or the latest Huawei P30. Reversing software is much more difficult. Asia still hasn't made an operating system/mobile OS worth using and Baidu, which is Google's top global competitor, is so far behind in search and AI.

That's like saying GM cannot make a car that's like a BMW. It's not that they can't in a technical sense, it's that each is an incumbent in it's own part of the market and the benefits may be slight to move into where a competitor is already strong.

Above all else, people want to make money, not operating systems. If there is no need to complement or displace the incumbents, it may be a fruitless undertaking to create another operating system. Network effects favor the incumbent. If export restrictions necessitate a China indigenous operating system it will happen.

A small team can start by reading this book...


then take what you can legally from what is open source (which is everything you need).

"Tech progress gives companies countless opportunities to dematerialize: to use bits instead of atoms, and so consume fewer resources even as they grow." I infer from this statement that tech offers virtual (or dematerialized) experiences, using bits instead of atoms. A virtual trip to Paris certainly uses fewer resources than an actual trip to Paris. If one is wealthy, one is entitled to have the actual experience, getting there in a private jet no less and using enormous amounts of resources. What this suggests is a future where the experiences of the rich and the not rich differ in kind as well as degree, most of the experiences of the rich being actual experiences and most of the experiences of the not rich being virtual. We see this today with the vast amount of time people spend with their smart phones and other tech devices, sitting idle rather than engaging the world in actual experiences. Of course, a virtual experience is an illusion, as is much of the progress tech has provided.

None of this is reflected in the summary at Amazon, but I suspect it's the case. Sure, computers (bits) can be used to increase the efficiency of actual experiences, whether traveling, farming, or industrial production, and thereby reduce the consumption of material resources. There's a story in the NYT about a tech start-up, One Source, which promises to increase the efficiency of saving lives in a disaster. One Source's software relies on simulations, and experts in disaster preparedness and response are questioning the accuracy and reliability of the simulations. As is the case with so much of high tech, the hype and promise far exceed actual result: the hype and promise relying on a virtual solution to a real problem. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/09/us/emergency-response-disaster-technology.html

One Concern, not One Source, is the name of the tech company.

Nobody eats filet mignon at every meal. If the virtual trip to Paris comes into existence, it seems that, for rich people, it becomes a substitute for the real experience. In general if something comes into existence it becomes an alternative with non-zero uptake.

How easy is it for tech to get the public to believe in a future with amazing leaps in technological progress (i.e., to suspend disbelief)? Here's something that even astonished me. In David Perell's tribute to Peter Thiel linked by Cowen in Cowen's nomination of Thiel as the foremost public intellectual, Perell recounts the public's reaction to Neal Armstrong's trip to the moon:

"Just ask Pan American World Airways, the iconic airline of the Post World War II era. After Americans stepped foot on the moon, the airline’s customer center was inundated with phone calls from around the country. First the astronauts. Then, the people. Customers wanted to reserve seats on the first trips to the moon. Between 1968 and 1971, Pan Am accepted 93,005 reservations for planned commercial flights to the moon."

Read Perell's tribute; it's full of gems. Thiel's vision for a limitless future matches Cowen's vision in Stubborn Attachments. Thiel and Cowen are one.

Instead of real families, we will stream family sitcoms from Netflix. Instead of talking to people, we will Facebook them instead. Instead of actual sex, we will have online porn. Instead of travel we will use virtual reality. The world of dematerialized bits looks underwhelming to me. In other words, a weak facsimile of life with none of the adventure that makes it precious.

Many would have said the same about low tech virtual experiences; books and the imagination.

But I think most would say these are a complement to experiences that are really possible and available for them, rather than a distraction from or substitute for really attaining those experiences (whether those are families who enjoy watching family sitcoms, or folk without families who do).

There are many people who for one reason or another lack families, friends, access to sex, or money to afford travel (in fact most Americans have never traveled abroad). The virtual stuff could improve their lives by giving them access to a facsimile where previously they had nothing.

Atoms for the rich. Bits for the poor. Makes sense. Natural resources are dwindling while bits and data are easily replicated. This also looks like a recipe for future social unrest.

Atoms for the rich and bits for the poor is better than the historical norm of atoms for the rich and nothing for the poor.

"Atoms for the rich and bits for the poor."

Sounds like a Dire Straights song.

Straits, perhaps? Altho a case could be made for straights.

I'm sure there's something in our blog host's microeconomics fundamentals textbook that supports the following statement: "atoms for the rich, bits for the rich, bits for the poor".

Speaking of atoms for the rich, on the road east of Tampa last week I saw a convoy of two that each were a large RV towing a large pickup carrying a golf cart. Six vehicles in all. Apparently hotels and rental cars are not good enough but it's hard to understand why you need your own golf cart.

We have already arrived: Donald Trump is the virtual president confounded by reality. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/08/trump-photo-melania-el-paso-orphan-baby-photo.html

You go to Slate for "news"? ???

"This is an urgently needed and clear-eyed view of how to have our technological cake and eat it too."

Well, this makes me immediately suspicious. Treating what people want as the binding constraint instead of what the Earth can provide without degrading its future productive capacity (to the extent that this is knowable; a sane society would try to allow a large margin of error) has been the single greatest source of motivated reasoning about economics since we became aware that our civilization was approaching planet-wide scale. Does this book break out of that trap?

"what the Earth can provide without degrading its future productive capacity (to the extent that this is knowable; a sane society would try to allow a large margin of error)"

Humanity has never been close to 'degrading its future productive capacity.' And in the past 200 years, global extreme poverty has gone from 90% to 10%, with a drop from 40% to 10% in the past 50 years.

IF modern technologies "dematerialize consumption" so fantastically well, why does Jeff Bezos spend so much on shipping material items in cardboard and pasteboard boxes? Why is B&N still in business? Why are ozone-destroying or -compromising jetliners still manufactured?

Cycling works just fine in Amsterdam, even with all the vehicular traffic, the streetcars on their rail lines, and the staggering hashish devotees. Why has cycling not helped "dematerialize" transportation in some trendy American locale like New York City or Los Angeles?

WHERE is all of this long-promised "telecommuting" taking place? (Why is Elon Musk not manufacturing dematerialized cars?)

Can McAfee or Andreessen (or Cowen) really think that mastering quantum superpositions and bilocating will be scalable to assembled and manufactured merchandise on the macro level in the next twenty years? fifty years? century?

- Once battery technology becomes good enough, electric cars will rapidly become to the default option.
- Once solar and battery technology reach a certain threshold, renewables will rapidly make up the majority of our energy generation.
- Once autonomous driving arrives, it will no longer be economical to own a car. The total number of cars might drop by half or a third, depending on how a shared fleet will change our transportation usage.

All those changes are likely to occur within the next 10-15 years. Autonomous driving in particular will have a transformative effect on society. The ability to text or play video games on my phone doesn’t feel transformational, but being able to go anywhere at anytime, without effort, will. As for dematerialization, you’re underrating the substitution value of digital goods. Taking kids as one example, think of the mountain of toys which they aren’t buying because they prefer Fortnite or Minecraft. Shipping the toys that they do buy will be less of a problem with self-driving electric cars as well as drone delivery.

Frankly, I think the planet's overdue exchange of atomic or nuclear weaponry between or among aggrieved states will supply much more enduring dematerialization than anything else our cognitive elites have in mind or will be able to pull off.

Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs appear not to agree:


Unlikely heroes?

Capitalism and technology are practically the ONLY things that have ever produced more from less.

It has been well known for at least a century that profit maximization is the primal and cost minimization is the dual.

'Capitalism and technology are practically the ONLY things that have ever produced more from less.'

The basic replacement of wood by coal as fuel in England in 1600 would suggest that neither technology nor capitalism are required to provide more from less.

Or it suggests that you might benefit from reading about the innovations in mine drainage, bulk land transportation, residential chimney construction, and bulk cargo loading that made coal's growth possible.

Or we could look at the capitalism angle and note how Henry VIII's seizure of church lands and sale to the merchant class with defined property rights, including mineral rights (instead of the feudal lease system) allowed for sustained investment in the mines as well as borrowing against the land. This new ability of using property rights to secure financing for investing in mine production would certainly seem to be just a wee bit capitalistic.

'Or it suggests that you might benefit from reading about the innovations in mine drainage, bulk land transportation, residential chimney construction, and bulk cargo loading that made coal's growth possible.'

And you might benefit from reading something like this link - https://www.jstor.org/stable/24953925?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents giving a brief description, as it calls it, of England's wood crisis from 1450 to 1550, along with the increasing burning of coal to replace wood. It also notes that Britain was the first large European area to experience this wood crisis. A crisis that started more than a century before Henry VIII, better mine drainage, etc.

The Germans (well, the Saxons first) took another approach to deforestation just as the Industrial Revolution was just getting started - 'Around 1700, even the mining industry was threatened in Saxony. The mines had not been exhausted of their ores, but the mining industry and smelting of ores had consumed whole forests. In the vicinity of places of mining activity the old growth forests had disappeared completely. Trees had been cut for decades without restoring the forests.

The mining administrator Hans Carl von Carlowitz was the first one to comprehensively formulate the concept of sustainability in forestry. His famous treatise „Sylvicultura Oeconomica, or a guide to the cultivation of native trees” is a compilation of the knowledge about forest management at the time.' https://www.forstwirtschaft-in-deutschland.de/en/discover-our-forests/historical-development/

But that is just another example of how Germans think (as a framework, at least) that living within your means is the only way to have a sustainable long term future.

And honestly, going to coal led to a considerable increase in 'materialization,' not a decrease.

But even before 1450 we were seeing innovations in coal production. Coal mines and coal end uses were becoming increasingly sophisticated that its use was banned in 1306 for being too noxious.

The more proximate cause was not deforestation, though that certainly played a role. It was repopulation. Coals trajectory slumped when the mines were decimated by the Black Death and the supply of labor dried up. Coupled with decreased demand for coal due to the shrinking economy, coal's resurgence started not with a shortage of trees (there were fewer in 1300 than in 1450), but with an excess of people, particularly in London and other major towns.

The petitions of the era do not show an absolute shortage of timber, more board-feet were being consumed in the 15th century than ever had been before. The petitioners all cited the costs of timber. Coal substituted because technology had made it cheaper to substitute for more things.

We know this is the case because deforestation rates in England remain unchanged from 1400 to 1900. Even as coal supply more joules in a year than all British timbering in centuries, England still was chopping down her forests.

At the end of the day, deforestation often lead to problems. Most often solved by population collapse and dispersal. Only in Western Europe did technology lead to sustained dematerialization in energy production.

As far as Germany, I find any claims of "sustainability" when they still need to employ things like Bagger 293 to rip through a quarter million tons a day to feed their new polluting power plants like Lunen Trianel. I mean they only create millions of tons of toxic particulent matter every year while emitting more CO2 than whole countries. But hey what says sustainable more than open mining and coal fired electricity?

We should applaud comfortable people who choose to consume less on the margin, but de-growth is not a viable systematic solution without killing off most of humanity. The only way that 7 billion people can enjoy a decent standard of living is through much greater technological and institutional improvement, and yes, resource consumption too.

Post-scarcity, for the most part.

Another good book along the same lines, that has aged well, is this one:

The Doomsday Myth: 10, 000 Years of Economic Crises (Hoover Institution Press Publication) by Charles Maurice

Bonus trivia: Julian Lincoln Simon was an American professor of business administration at the University of Maryland and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute at the time of his death, after previously serving as a longtime economics and business professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

With decentralized ledgers and cryptocurrencies, it is "less from more".

McAfee? Didn't he kill someone in Bolivia or somewhere else in Central America?


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