Life is getting better at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people's lives as never before.
The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for 200 years.
Yet Matt Ridley does more than describe how things are getting better. He explains why. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization, which started more than 100,000 years ago, has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair.
This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change, and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the 21st century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity enhanced. Acute, refreshing, and revelatory, The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.
©2010 Matt Ridley (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers
Ridley makes the very important point that the modern world is fundamentally built on trade and the specialization of labor. This idea can often be overlooked. Many people seem to think that we would be better off doing everything ourselves. Ridley shows that this is deeply misguided. However, I agree with William Easterly's review in that there are numerous rants throughout the book that don't really advance any idea and instead chafe otherwise sympathetic listeners. This book could've been a lot better. I was hoping this book would be a nice complement to Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature but it paled in comparison to Pinker's rigor and depth.
That book brought me to a revelation. He points out how mankind is unique in that we continuously build upon and leverage knowledge of past generations to in effect improve our standard of living. He also points out how great innovations most commonly come not from scientists but from entrepreneurs who look at existing processes or methods and revise, combine, etc to develop new tools and technologies. The revelation is this. Despite our very serious debt problems, I think that the next couple of decades will likely actually bring an unprecedented upswing in opportunity and prosperity (in particular in the US where business friction is actually the lowest). The internet is still quite new. When I started college, uvm still had card catalogs in the library! The effort required to find information was absurd. The access that people now have to information and accumulated wisdom of past generations is phenomenal. It’s an explosion. Information and knowledge are the fuel for innovation. There’s a lot of fuel and there’s a lot of innovation coming.
Wow...what a mind! Ridley, darn his hide, has written the book I wanted to write! Observations and data abound about how life is simply BETTER for most sentient creatures than it has ever been on planet earth. While far from naive, Ridley understands that current abiities to TRADE and SPECIALIZE are the keys to prosperity. The sections on environmental policies and the astounding level of wrong headedness in the "green" movement are worth the price of the book. Counterintuitive, reasonable, rational, articulate...Ridley may change your mind about what it means to be alive in the 21st century. And about how "green" basic, but wrong, ideas like eating local, renewable resources, and biofuels are.
Enjoyed listening to how trade and cheap energy has made life better for everyone. This was filled with great nuggets of information.
South African living in Australia, love books, travel history. Favourite fiction: The Ice Limit. Favourite History: The Civil War.
I liked the narration, its rational :)
To put rational and religion in the same narrative is brave. If that religion is evolution, its beyond brave. This is a book about history. Ancient history. Most likely fictitious history. When anybody talks "rationally" about the lifestyle of Aboriginals 60 000 years ago, African 57 000 years ago etc, he has lost the plot. He is on a "walkabout" though a fairy tale, so absolutely fictitious, unlikely, unprovable and... pointless.I was hoping to learn something about the bright future that we all seem to dread. I was hoping someone has reason to believe the doom-sayers are wrong, that the world in not on the brink of disaster, that the financial system personal liberty and healthy food is not a moment lost in history.I confess, this is one of very few Audio books, I have been unable to finish. For its lack of realism and relevance is confounding.If you are looking for optimism, read another book. If you hope to find something likely to be truthfull or rational,. buy another book.
Buy another book anyway.
I'm already on my second listen. There is a lot of data to absorb that I want to be able to share as needed.
How much we just hate good news!
One thing he got wrong was about farming methods. While I agree he may have a point about organic industrial not being efficient, its worth noting that that particular niche in the market was created by consumer demand. In fact, traditional mixed farms produce far more food per acre than do industrial farms.
This in no way negates the central theme of the book in that things are getting better. Mixed use farming, and biodynamic growing methods are increasing because consumers desire this product and because can produce food on land that might otherwise be very difficult. Efficiency and productivity are increasing to the point where the farmers can feel free to take time off!
The book ranks among 5 best reads on my list of economic titles.
No single moment can be described as best. The whole book is slowly taking on the the well known economic facts/theories and show them from evolutionist perspective. What is remarkable about this book is that the evolutionist point of view is usually more easy to understand and better explains the observed relationships/outcomes/interconnections in the economy.
This one seems to be better.
Evolutionary revolution in economics.
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