This was a great read about how the United States should reframe many of its basic political assumptions.

It is tempting to think of life as a zero-sum game. Having more for me, even enough for me, means less or even not enough for others. Usually, we have the open-mindedness to feel like we can cooperate with some few – our family, our community, or perhaps our nation or religion or even (problematically) our ethnic group. But at a certain scale, there is a sense that there’s not enough to go around to all the people who might want it.

This shows up on the right and the left. For the right, our country is “full,” any immigrants a threat to sparse resources and jobs. For the left, it is the world that is seen as full: more people necessarily is seen to mean more environmental damage.

In his book One Billion Americans, Matt Yglesias addresses both arguments, and addresses them thoroughly. In summary: Our country is not resource constrained, but constrained by willingness to use well-established urban planning and transit technology that exists throughout the world. The way out of environmental damage and climate change is not asceticism or population restriction, but technology.

By focusing around the provocative premise of an America with three times the population, both by increased birth rate (a scandal to liberals) an increased immigration (a scandal to conservatives), Matt Yglesias creates a framework he can jump off of to explore a variety of issues. To accomplish this audacious goal, many problems would have to be fixed in Amerian society, politics, and economics, for the most part problems that we will have anyway, and that we will have to fix anyway, whether or not we have in mind the goal of tripling our population.

As a result, the book covers a variety of seemingly disjoint topics, from childcare and education to immigration to transit and urban planning. It therefore avoided the problem a lot of non-fiction books have: I genuinely feel this book is the correct length. Unlike many similar books, it could not have just been a blog post, but rather it would have been a blog series, that is to say, a full-length book.

All in all, a great read, and I am grateful to the friend who gave it to me this year for my birthday. I generally agree with the positions in it, and it provoked a lot of good thought.