During the Industrial Era economies around the world grew rapidly. And as they grew, they used more year after year of the Earth’s resources: metals, minerals, fertilizers, trees, fossil fuels, cropland, and so on. Then we invented the computer and its kin, and the pattern changed. Hardware, software, and networks allow companies to use fewer materials as they produce their goods and services. Profit-seeking companies in competitive markets are eager to pursue these opportunities to dematerialize because they bring cost savings, and a penny saved is a penny earned. Dematerialization accumulates over time, and the economy as a whole eventually moves past “peak stuff” with respect to more and more resources. The counterintuitive result is that capitalist, technology-intensive economies like America’s are now dematerializing across a wide range of resources, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Tech progress and capitalism are also raising incomes around the world, and making it possible to obtain previously unavailable resources. As a result the global affordability of a resource -- the number of minutes the world’s average worker has to work in order to be able to buy it -- will increase over time.
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