The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Matt Ridley, science writer and commentator, delivers a blistering attack on the pessimists of the world, who extrapolate their way to doom and gloom, whether it be a new Ice Age, overpopulation, markets rather than hierarchies, energy crises, food scares and epidemics. He shows, with a wealth of examples (not always well referenced – especially the statistics) that the human race, due to its unique in its ability to trade goods, services and ideas with people outside the family or other small group, will succeed in overcoming challenges – including global warming.
For someone who grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation (I remember thinking, as an 18-year old, that there would be little point in getting an education because we were all going to die in an atomic blast anyway) this is another of those books (Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, Dan Dennett’s Consciousness Explained and David S. Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations being others) that convincingly reinforces by trust in science, innovation and knowledge’s worth and ability to create the future – a future we have not chance of extrapolating ourselves into.
Enjoyable – a simple premise, well argued and organized. Recommended.
What we track with statistics is the well being of a legal fiction – the nation. And it is easy to document the increased well being of this entity, the best I have seen is the “statistical movies” on gapminder.org . Pick any variable of your choice, and you will find reason for optimism. WWII is a small blip in the progress.
What we miss by looking at these numbers is the fact that happiness and well being is something that only may be experienced by individual human beings. A small blip taking place in a singel individual’s adolscence may ruin the prospects of his/hers whole life. Volatility is probably the big distortion here.
If you have a continuos cycle of seven fat and seven lean years, but where each bottom and top is a little higher than the previous one, the nation may prosper. But it will create a lot of suffering among those who are destined to come of working age in the lean years. More than a less volatile world would have created.
And we all know the quote about the long run.