Steven Stoll


On his book The Great Delusion: A Mad Inventor, Death in the Tropics and the Utopian Origins of Economic Growth

Cover Interview of December 29, 2008


The final chapter of the book brings the argument up to the present.  I wrote The Great Delusion for another reason.  I have been deluded myself, and never more so than when I go to Costco.  Costco hangs in the background of the entire book, not because of any policy of its management but because of the enormous statement it makes about consumption and abundance.  Everything comes in giant quantities, from all parts of the world, and the stock is replenished hourly.  Standing at the door, it is possible to watch schools of salmon, forests of Douglas fir, barrels of petroleum, acres of corn and wheat, and appliances that will siphon off untold kilowatt hours of electricity pass out into the parking lot and from there into the households of southern Connecticut.  It bothered me—a lot.  And if going to Costco seems anything but a journey into utopia, consider that the plenty it offers every day (for low unit prices) differs hardly at all from what utopian writers promised during the 1840s.  We would all have whatever we wanted; in fact, the dream commodity of the future for Ralph Waldo Emerson consisted of factory-baked bread.  As I say in the book, Etzler did not promise a world to come but the world that came.

© 2008 Steven Stoll