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A look on the brighter side of life

  • Jul 9, 2010
Matt Ridley has done it. He has written a book that takes a realist's approach at looking toward the future. His findings... it's a heck of a lot better than people are predicting.

True Story. On a recent flight I had the misfortune of sitting next to a white knuckle anarchist. I decided that talking to him during the flight was probably the best way to keep me free from wearing vomit. The anarchist would make statements like, "anyone who can not feed their own subsitience deserves to die" and "The world is so over-populated that we need to blow up the big cities." Obviously, both of these statements are laughable (although scary that someone actually has that view point). What I found that by reciting passages from the "The Rational Optimist" I was able to offer very CONVINCING arguments against his viewpoints.

The Rational Optimist shows us that Self-Sufficiency is a figment of our imagination. Who produces the steel for your shovel? Are you using a tractor... who made it? While engaging in these activities the proprietor would be able to grow their own food (Make steel or farm... you probably do one but not both). The key to our civilization (quite literally) is our ability to specialize in a task and trade those services for something that we are less efficient at doing.

Anyhow - that is the premise for the first 250 pages of the "Rational Optimist." The remainder shows us why we have cause to be optimistic - here are a couple of examples

- Food production - using fertilizers and pesticides we are able to greatly increase the productivity of land. This helps to both feed more people and to save land from deforestation. Organic food made sound enticing, but it will cause millions (if not billions) of people to die of starvation. It will also cause the need for additional farmland - MUCH more farmland. It will require more tractors which increases our need of fossil fuels. In short, organic foods have the markings of an environmental disaster.

- Global warming - Higher CO2 levels means that plants grow faster. It also means longer growing season and the likelihood for more rain. This will allow us to save (more) forest land while feeding (more) people.

What Matt Ridley has done is to show that through specialization and collaboration mankind has made several significant jumps in technology and economic growth. Why does economic growth matter? The more economic growth the less hungry people are... the less likely they to die from treatable diseases. Roughly 20 years ago the internet became the greatest tool for collaboration that the world has ever known.... If specialization and collaboration are the keys to economic growth and we now have this great tool.... Why shouldn't we be optimistic?

Matt Ridley's writing can be a bit dry at times, but this is a very minor detriment. The true strength of the book his methodical approach in building a case that outlines (quite convincingly as my new anarchist friend can attest to) a scenario for a very rosy future.

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More The Rational Optimist: How Pro... reviews
review by . October 11, 2010
A Real Eye-Opener
The Rational Optimist is a self-described contrarian view of the economy and economic development, from prehistory until now. Author Matt Ridley is unabashedly optimistic about the future of humanity and makes a credible case for his view that humans will continue to progress throughout the 21st century, sustainability challenges notwithstanding. He refutes pessimists who believe that that the planet cannot support more humans than it already has by asserting that economic progress will continue …
review by . August 05, 2010
If you don't already believe that we now live in the most prosperous era in human history, The Rational Optimist should convince you. Every generation before us lived shorter, harder lives, with more dangers and fewer freedoms. And things will almost certainly keep getting better and better, as the market continues to support further innovation and specialization.    Ridley argues this point exhaustively with a constant stream of numbers and factoids. Indeed, the book's broad …
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Ideas have sex, in Ridley's schema; they follow a process of natural selection of their own, and as long as they continue to do so, there is reason to retire apocalyptic pessimism about the future of our species. Erstwhile zoologist, conservationist, and journalist, Ridley (The Red Queen) posits that as long as civilization engages in exchange and specialization, we will be able to reinvent ourselves and responsibly use earthly resources ad infinitum. Humanity's collective intelligence will save the day, just as it has over the centuries. Ridley puts current perceptions about violence, wealth, and the environment into historical perspective, reaching back thousands of years to advocate global free trade, smaller government, and the use of fossil fuels. He confidently takes on the experts, from modern sociologists who fret over the current level of violence in the world to environmentalists who disdain genetically modified crops. An ambitious and sunny paean to human ingenuity, this is an argument for why ambitious optimism is morally mandatory.(June)
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Books, Nonfiction, Nonfiction Books, Economics, Wealth, Matt Ridley, Practical Reason, Optimism


ISBN-10: 006145205X
ISBN-13: 978-0061452055
Author: Matt Ridley
Genre: History, Science
Publisher: Harper
Date Published: May 18, 2010
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