This is an idea that worries me ...
Look at nature. Nature is fractal. It operates on different scales. It is, overall, pretty efficient. Ecosystems balance plants, herbivores, higher carnivores, carion eaters, decomposers etc. Between them, they make a good job of keeping everything recycling.
But how did nature attain this state? Through a lot of adaption and a lot of negotiation or dynamic tension between different species competing for the same resources etc.
And the efficiency is managed at many different scales. For example, large carnivores are not the most efficient consumers of meat. The lion chases and pulls down large herbivores, stuffs itself with the good bits and then leaves it. What happens then is that new tiers come in : jackals, vultures, a PeckingOrder. Each wave is a "smaller" scale, less powerful, more desperate, more dependent. Ultimately, the final remains of the antelope are cleared up by the bacteria in the soil.
Would it be worth the lion adapting to be a more efficient consumer? To study up the roles of jackals and vultures and fungi and bacteria, to learn to mop up the very last dregs of value from the kill? Not if the lion is to remain a lion. The specialization, the size, shape, energy consumption required to hunt the wildebeast isn't what it takes to be a vacuum cleaner.
So the lion is wasteful. The lion chases more meat than she can eat. Specializing in a particular scale of operation. And then other species evolve to take advantage of the waste. To live in the interstices created by the lion's feeding.
It's a common pattern. But is it a necessary one? Do we have to have fractal clean-up crews to make efficient EcoSystems? And what does that mean for human society? The rich consume and waste so much. The poor receive hand-me-downs and recycle. But could you eliminate the fractal nature, bring equality and still maintain the efficiency? Or are efficiency and egalitarianism exclusive patterns?
IMHO, fractality is the key to efficiency on a large scale. However, it also goes hand in hand with adaptability and emergence - a system that has been designed will lack fractality and recursiveness, and thus will be less efficient. However, I think looking at the different LayersOfAbstraction in terms of purely individual monetary worth is the wrong to filter it, if you want to work out what will work and what won't. Instead, I think it's more important to consider how waste and efficiency are handled on an organisational size layer, i.e. from the individual, up to family, up to friends, up to companies/charities/et al, up to districts/towns, up to national governments and global governments.
As a whole we are very wasteful. But that waste is emergent and generic, and thus can only be re-used properly according to smaller scales - i.e. smaller groups have use for the "waste" of larger groups. It's this specificity that is important. However, this isn't (I believe) mutually exclusive to a more balanced society.
Achieving this is difficult, because our whole paradigm right now is design, design, design. If we're to get anywhere near efficient and sustainable, we first have to trust patterns to emerge through not just liberal marketplaces, but through liberal governance.
Addendum: Hmm, just noticed I seem to be following [Tim http://www.readwriteweb.com/2004/01/15.html#a188 Tim Berners Lee] on this one...
Doh! Forgot to link to FractalSociety