Diamandis and Kotler
By Arnold Kling
The book is Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think. I think it is a must-read.
1. I am skeptical of Peter Thiel’s view that regulation is holding back progress. I recall Ray Kurzweil’s remark that regulations are like stones in a river. They do not slow down the river. Abundance gives me the impression that if progress is slow, it is because problems are complex. The authors see opportunities in water conservation and purification, energy production and conservation, health care, and education. However, the picture I come away with is one of a number of competing potential solutions, not all mutually compatible, and none yet proven to work at scale. In the field of alternative energy, I think it would be hard to argue that government is holding back innovation, even though it certainly is distorting the market. I think that the best argument one can make for Thiel’s view is that water conservation is being held back by resistance to genetically-modified organisms, but that would not be quantitatively significant. In the grand scheme of things, I think that what is standing in the way of the innovations described in Abundance is the need for more research and trial-and-error learning; regulation is at most a minor hindrance.
2. My favorite quote in the book is from Bill Joy.
“It used to be that you were considered healthy and wealthy if you were fat,” says Joy. “Now it’s not. So now we think it’s healthy and wealthy if we have all these things; well, what if it’s actually the opposite? What if healthy and wealthy means that you don’t need all those things because, instead, you’ve got these really simple devices that are low maintenance and encapsulate everything you need?”
The term for this is de-materialization. I read Abundance on a Kindle, for example. When I was the age of one of my daughters, I had a record collection that took up a lot of space. Her (larger) music collection fits in her pocket. Soon, you won’t need that big-screen TV, because you are happy with your cell phone (perhaps augmented by special glasses). You won’t need a car, because you can always get to work via video conference, or catch a ride with a self-driving taxi. Etc.
3. Abundance points out that Africa has skipped a step in telecommunications, because cell phone adoption is taking place without prior adoption of land lines. I wonder if this is going to happen in other fields as well. Could education and health care innovation be adopted more readily in underdeveloped countries, because demand cannot be satisfied using first-world solutions?
4. On the topic of education, they tell the story of Sugata Mitra’s TED talk, which is amazing. At the end, he discusses learning as an emergent phenomenon. You could have an interesting discussion of the Hayekian ideas expressed in that minute alone.