Week 25: The Rational Optimist

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, by Matt Ridley

This was a hugely interesting book. Ridley's thesis is that despite centuries of pessimism and constant lamenting over the imminent collapse of society and/or the environment, optimism is the rational way to see the world. The reason for optimism is that ideas procreate, producing more and more new ideas all the time--and so our problems get solved, everyone gets wealthier, and the planet gets healthier too. Specialization and trade are the engines of growth, prosperity, and problem-solving.

Ridley takes on every dire prediction you've ever heard and argues that things are only getting better. He saves fossil fuels and global warming for last, so you have to read to the end. He is not denying that environmental problems exist and that we should solve them; he's only saying that they probably will get solved, but that telling everyone to eschew prosperity and new technology is not what will solve the problem. Instead, new ideas and technology will allow us to support more wealth without destroying the environment.

I thought this book was fascinating and would highly recommend it.


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