The invention of agriculture is itself a runaway train, leading to vastly expanded populations because of two inevitable (or nearly inevitable) consequences. The first is biological: the population grows until it hits the bounds of the food supply. The second is social: all civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures that there can never be enough to go around. The economist Thomas Malthus explored the first dilemma, and thinkers from Christ to Marx have touched on the second.As with the companion volume, this reader ought best be viewed as a statement of faith for people who might have argued themselves into or who are disposed to accept the argument that we'd all live well but for a few greedy people who seek everything for themselves. Life-extending research is a bad idea, not because it's contrary to Gaia's plans but because rich sesquicentenarians will buy up all the life-prolonging technologies and the researchers should be providing cheaper HIV treatments to the Third World, even though antibiotics induce selection for resistant bacteria. (Yes, that sounds incoherent, but read the book, especially the Grimmer Harper's Index stuff between essays.) The book also illustrates the hazards of making economic forecasts. It reprints the usually sensible James Fallows envisioning a future near-Depression in which the Dow closed at its all-time high of 11,090 just after the first Bush administration tax cut bill became law.
Although the book is long on complaint, it is short on suggested improvements or course changes.