[EconTalk] Andrew McAfee on More from Less

Andrew McAfee on More from Less

14/10/2019 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=83894458
Episode: http://files.libertyfund.org/econtalk/y2019/McAfeemore.mp3

Andrew McAfee of MIT’s Sloan School of Management talks about his book, More from Less, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. McAfee argues that technology is helping developed nations use fewer resources in producing higher levels of economic output. The improvement is not just a reduction in energy per dollar of GDP but less energy in total as economic growth progresses. This “dematerialization” portends a future that was unimaginable to the economists and pundits of the past. McAfee discusses the potential for dealing with climate change in a dematerialized world, the non-material aspects of economic progress, and the political repercussions of the current distribution of economic progress.

Listen Date: 2020-01-22


  • Well, that was cheerful! But caveats:
    • How comes this efficiency doesn’t show up in productivity numbers, ones that EconTalk devoted an episode to?
    • How much dematerialisation is simply on account of the USA importing everything (not agricultural goods, I’ll concede) from China?
    • Would the USA import paper and timber? Maybe from Canada, but I suspect the freight costs on paper and timber would kill imports from Asia.
    • Considering the USA is binging on SUVs right now (well, so is India) rather than sedans, imagine how much faster the dematerialisation would accelerate (both for metals and for petroleum products) if there were a behavioural shift back to sedans and small cars.
    • More than China, if Brazil is burning down the Amazon jungle to clear land for soybeans and beef ranches, either the story is simply a shift to imports, or more optimistically, that if Brazil had the same level of innovation+competition, it would be dematerialising too.
  • The steam engines -> steamships -> guano imports -> fertiliser -> agricultural productivity boom story was new to me.
  • So was the story of the Russian slaughter of whales just to meet Fisheries Ministry targets.
  • I too was delighted at the ‘Software is uneating the world’ line.


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