Derek Thompson: “This is the manifesto I wrote in early January, when I saw the winter COVID-testing shortage as a sign of what’s to come. I said that the U.S. doesn’t have enough houses, enough doctors, or enough clean energy. To fix this crisis of scarcity, I proposed an agenda of abundance. Since then, rising tensions with China, a key node of our global supply chain, has made me even more certain that the U.S. needs a policy to ensure that the supply of key materials doesn’t rely on a geopolitical adversary.”
We live in an age of political, economic, and cultural exhaustion. For the past few years, the economy has been steamrolled by shortages—of masks, then tests, then vaccines, then cars and baby formula. Our leaders do too much venting about what’s wrong in the world and not enough inventing to make it right. An age of extraordinary communications technology has coincided with an era of declining physical-world progress.
So what’s the solution here? Since the beginning of 2022, I’ve been exploring what an abundance agenda might look like for the U.S. That’s the topic I’m focusing on today, with this collection of articles that make the case for this new philosophy of the future. If you like what you see, I hope you’ll read or save these essays, and then consider subscribing to my newsletter, Work in Progress, for weekly dispatches on this idea. —Derek Thompson
DT: “In this article, Ezra Klein connects the material case for abundance to the emotional case for educated optimism about our capacity to make the world better. It’s rather gloomy for adults to look at children as little more than carbon-emitting nodes or passive consumers of a worsening world. Young people have agency to change the world they inherit, and they can be agents of hope.”
DT: “Heather McGhee’s story of a drained pool in Alabama is the most powerful metaphor I’ve ever read for the ways that private selfishness deprives us all of public goods. This is a beautiful synthesis of her astonishing book.”
DT: “Abundance isn’t just about fulfilling our obligation to build houses and other things that we already know how to do. It’s about building things that don’t yet exist that can make us happier, reduce pain, and increase human empowerment. This is a fantastic overview of the frontier of technologies that don’t fully exist yet.”
DT: “The discovery of the smallpox vaccine and the eradication of the world’s worst disease is one of the more remarkable accomplishments in our history. It also offers an incredible lesson: Progress isn’t just about science and technology. It’s about laws, ingenuity, and progressivism. An invention that’s never scaled affordably is, for most people, little better than no invention at all.”
DT: “The policies of abundance won’t be simple. Some efforts to fortify the supply of products such as microchips can backfire. This is a great overview of semiconductor subsidies and how they work.”
DT: “There is a lot of research into extending human life spans. This can scare some people into thinking that we’re on the verge of building some kind of Frankenstein’s monster or giving eternal life to evil men. But for me, progress is two things: It’s reducing pain and increasing power, for the many. It’s hard to imagine a technology more empowering than therapies that extend our health span. This is a wonderful account of the history of using technology to live longer and healthier lives.”
DT: “Progress requires an ongoing balancing act between putting out the fire in the burning house of the present and preparing for future fires. I think it’s rather astonishing that the U.S. hasn’t done more to address the possibility—scratch that, the inevitability—of future global pandemics. This is a brilliant summary of how to do that.”
Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he publishes the newsletter Work in Progress, on science, tech, and culture. He is the founder and host of the news podcast Plain English and the previous host of the podcast Crazy/Genius, which won the 2020 Publisher Podcast Award for best podcast of the year. A news analyst with NPR, Derek appears weekly on the national news show “Here and Now” and is also a contributor to CBS News. His first book, the national best seller Hit Makers: How to Succeed in an Age of Distraction, has been translated into more than a dozen languages and was named the 2018 Book of the Year by the American Marketing Association. He is working on his second book, about what the history of progress can teach us about creating a world of abundance. Derek lives in Washington, D.C.