For years, the late, lamented Consumerist blog documented the "Grocery Shrink Ray" whereby common packaged goods got smaller while their prices held steady.
Meanwhile, the private equity fuckwits who took over J Crew destroyed its staples like the Cece ballet flat, replacing the stitching with glue and substituting inferior materials - increasing profits by cutting costs without cutting prices.
But capitalists also realize savings by redesigning products so that they they use less labor, energy and materials. Compare a stone house to a modern efficient home: the labor, energy and material inputs per cubic meter have been in freefall for generations.
It's not because capitalists are environmentalists, it's because they're cheap. I love this study of Ikea catalogs that found that the SKUs that endure become more materially efficient over time:
All of this leads capitalism's true believers to conclude that capitalism is compatible with planetary survival: left to its own devices, capitalist's cheapness will reduce material and energy inputs, and the carbon footprint of our goods will fall even as our economy grows.
One such believer is MIT Sloan's Andrew McAfee's "More From Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources—and What Happens Next."
McAfee's critics say he has it wrong. As Nafeez Ahmed writes in Motherboard, "scientific analysis by a group of systems scientists and economists who have advised the United Nations seems to pull the rug out from under this entire enterprise."
The critique is "Raising the bar: on the type, size and timeline of a 'successful' decoupling," published in
(Here's the Sci-Hub mirror:)
They also say that McAfee fails to acknowledge that even where there's growth without increased consumption, that there's a Red Queen's Race: when things get cheaper (because of increased material/energy efficiency), we buy more of it.
This is a familiar pattern: making it easier to travel increases traffic, which erases the gains from the new travel method. Uber and Lyft first increased mobility in cities, then they paralyzed them:
The barrier to such a city isn't tech or economics: it's ideology. No one came down off a mountain with two stone tablets saying "Thou shalt own a personal automobile." Rather, car companies corrupted urban planning to reduce transit and make us reliant on cars.
Likewise, it's possible to imagine an economic system in which manufacturing relentlessly reduces material/energy inputs while banning externalizing (cheating) and limiting new consumption.
Leigh Phillip's "Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts" describes this in detail. It's a call for a Promethean Left that demands technology to sustain the planet while giving peasants the lives of lords, not reducing lords to peasants.
If we can reform our ideology to prevent capitalism from wrecking the planet, why stop there? Why not harness technology to give us better allocations that enable plenty without waste?
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