The reptilian parts of our brains are often more heavily keyed in to fear responses—which is why so many popular economic and finance books are about coming shocks, crashes, disasters, depressions, and the like. And there’s not much scary about “abundance.” As such, you may not be immediately drawn to Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think. Yet, if you overlook this book, you miss a powerful tour of positive possibility and probability.
Abundance authors Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler acknowledge global challenges—like access to shelter, water, food, energy, health, education and freedom—citing these in meticulous statistical details. Yet rather than taking the Malthusian view (and a popular view at that), Diamandis and Kotler present a decidedly non-apocalyptic outlook—a world full of possibility, able to provide for basic human needs with improved global standards of living and expanding freedom and health. They aren’t baselessly optimistic—rather, underpinning their argument is the exponential growth of technological progress—with progress begetting more progress, ideas spawning off others, building off one another over time.
For example, app developers would be out of luck without smart phones. Yet, it’s not just about entertainment—thanks to technological advances, Tokyo residents were alerted to last year’s earthquake before shock waves hit the city. We’ve not only generated commerce, but enhanced safety. The book posits this exponential sweep of technology isn’t over. Rather, global stability and peace will increase as population pressures subside and the free exchange of intellectual capital will lead to greater international interdependence. Abundance forecasts the next twenty-five years to be revolutionary.
Now, I’d suggest approaching any long-term forecast with skepticism. But if you look to the long-term changes of the past, you find the book is merely suggesting the continuation of a long-existing pattern.
In many ways, Abundance feels like a postscript to Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist, a powerful book presenting evidence humanity has improved greatly over the millennia—and continues to at an ever-accelerating rate. Most folks seemingly think “spirals” only exist if they’re preceded by the word “downward,” yet the Abundance and Rational Optimist believer see differently—arguably, more clearly—that upward spirals are the norm.
I have some quibbles. For example, the book details some efforts to address the “world’s biggest problems”—with the effectiveness yet to be seen. In one sense, this could be the author putting his money where his mouth is. Or, this could be viewed as self-promotion. Either way, in my view these passages didn’t add much to the powerful message of the book.
Still, Abundance is an enlightening and stimulating work, offering a positive outlook in a field dominated by doom and gloom. If the future loosely approximates the pattern of post-industrial revolution world history, it’s highly likely this outlook is more accurate than the apocalyptic futurism common in literature these days.
Bonus book review: Engines of Change—Paul Ingrassia
One doesn’t always need to read dry, pure economic or market-related works to find value. Sometimes, that value is as simple as pressing a reset button for your brain. Yet others, like Paul Ingrassia’s Engines of Change – A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars, can both refresh and educate from an uncommon perspective. Ingrassia guides the reader through American history as seen from the driver’s seat, in a highly entertaining, fast-paced and insightful manner.
If you have ever owned and loved a Beetle, Corvair, Jeep, Caravan, Accord, or Prius, lusted for a Corvette, GTO, Mustang, BMW, or big finned Cadillac, this is a book for you. How these automotive icons came to be is presented both through the evolution of American culture and the economics of the era. The development of the automobile and transit has triggered so many major changes in America’s brief history as a country. Suburbs and exurbs, California’s (and many urban areas) landscape, music and culture, and, of course, economics. And so much more.
Ingrassia tells this history through anecdotes—like one particularly interesting tale of how the lowly Corvair propelled George W. Bush into the White House. I found Engines an interesting take and a worthwhile detour from more straight-up discussions of economics and history.