Doing More With Less

Reason's Ronald Bailey cites polls showing that most people agree that reducing consumption would "improve societal and individual well-being" and improve the environment.

But they didn't want their OWN consumption reduced. They only wanted to reduce rich people's consumption.

But we shouldn't blame them. Between being asked to "make do with less" - that is, become poorer - or have the rich make do with less, what would YOU prefer?

Bailey demonstrates, however, that these are false choices. Bailey asks, "(I)f using less somehow protects the environment, wouldn’t using less to produce more do so as well?

On Monday I noted how U.S. manufacturing output has more than doubled over the past 40 years, even though the workforce has been reduced by one-third.

That trend toward efficiency is worldwide. And we're not only making more efficient use of the workforce, but of the planet as well. Bailey reports on studies showing a trend called "dematerialization," that is, using less to produce more. From 1980 to 2005 . . .

  • The world's farmers raised crop yields by 57%, but cropland expanded by less than 100 million hectares
  • And if the world's farmers caught up to become as productive as Iowa's farmers, they could produce food for 10 billion people on about half the farmland being used now
  • Carbon emissions were 30% less than what one would have expected from the rate of growth of the world economy
  • A French consumer enjoyed 50 percent more affluence but used only 20 percent more energy

The bulk of this progress is the result of individuals and companies seeking to do more with less. This is an incentive everyone has. Just as we want to enjoy more things but spend less money, and just as we want to earn more while working less, so do businesses want to earn more profits with lower business expenses.

If left to their own devices, without government interference, people can be extremely efficient and resourceful. We can expect to enjoy ever-higher standards of living AND continue to live on a healthy, bountiful planet.