Charles C. Mann on Shaping Tomorrow’s World and the Limits to Growth (Ep. 33)

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On air pollution

On carbon capture and sequestration

On the water problem

On privatizing water companies

[Privatizing water companies] is a solution that should be on the table in many more places than it is, because the fact is that governments at every level have failed with water systems, and almost anything would be better than that.

On feeding the global population

Ecology and macroeconomics are sort of the same thing. They’re studying these huge systems with a zillion moving parts, none of which we understand very well.

On topsoil

On pessimist views

The pessimists are saying there’s a finite world. We can only get so much from it. That obviously is true. The question is not so much whether they’re wrong, it’s whether they’re relevant. If the limit is so far out there that we don’t even need to bother with it, they could still be right, it just wouldn’t matter.

On beef being cheaper than we think

On population control

On things under- and overrated

I ate an Impossible Burger for the first time the other day and it was pretty good. If I had been served that burger at a church social barbecue where they give you these mediocre burgers and so forth, I wouldn’t have batted an eye; I would’ve thought it was a real one.

On the history of the New World

The Aztecs were an empire, and they were not nice people. They were rough customers. And there was a lot of people whom they had subjugated, and people whom they were warring on who really detested them. And Cortez was able to knit them together into an enormous army, lead that army in there, have all these people do all that, and then hijack the result. This is an act of political genius worthy of Napoleon.

And you see these in the Cherry Blossom Festival…everybody in Tokyo is completely plowed at eleven o’clock in the morning, and there’s no fights.

There’s hardly even any litter. It’s really remarkable. So, I thought, why do the Japanese do this? And to some degree, it has to do with a level of social engineering, I think, that we are really uncomfortable with.

On why the Amazon basin has been neglected

On agriculture

On what pain relievers he uses

On the Charles C. Mann production function

I can read fairly quickly, and I’m not afraid of numbers. An awful lot of journalists aren’t afforded the pleasure, or time or whatever, to read, and an even larger percentage of them are much more scared about numbers than they should be. I was always raised by my father that if you stare at something long enough and ask enough questions, you can always figure out the gist of it.



A podcast in which esteemed economist Tyler Cowen engages with today's most underrated thinkers in wide-ranging explorations of their work, the world, and everything in between. For new episodes, visit

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