Capitalism Is Helping Us Use Less Stuff. No, Really.

We’re getting more efficient about resource use because of, not in spite of, the world’s dominant economic system

Andrew McAfee
Marker
Published in
6 min readOct 3, 2019

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Illustration: Jackson Gibbs

Capitalism and technological progress are driving dematerialization.

This statement will come as a surprise to many, and for good reason. After all, it’s exactly this combination that caused us to massively increase our resource consumption throughout the Industrial Era. Through most of history, capitalism and tech progress have always lead to more from more: more economic growth, but also more resource consumption.

So what has changed? How are capitalism and tech progress now getting us more from less? To get answers to these important questions, let’s start by looking at a few recent examples of dematerialization.

Fertile farms

America has long been an agricultural juggernaut. In 1982, after more than a decade of steady expansion due in part to rising grain prices, total cropland in the country stood at approximately 380 million acres. Over the next 10 years, however, almost all of this increase was reversed. So much acreage was abandoned by farmers and given back to nature that cropland in 1992 was almost back to where it had been almost 25 years before…

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Andrew McAfee
Marker

Andrew McAfee, an MIT scientist, studies how technology is changing the world.