The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

Has anyone out there had it with all the doom and gloom? Is there anyone out there who believes that humankind should not go back to a self-sufficient agrarian society? If so, Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist is a gospel to turn to.

He states: over 10,000 years ago there were fewer than 10 million people on the planet. Today there are more than seven billion, 99 per cent of whom are better fed, better sheltered, better entertained, and better protected against disease than their Stone Age ancestors. The availability of almost everything a person could want or need has been going erratically upwards for 10,000 years and has rapidly accelerated over the last 200 years: calories, vitamins, clean water, machines, the means to travel faster than we can run, and the ability to communicate over longer distances than we can shout.

Yet, however much things improve from the way they were before, some people still cling to the belief that the future will be nothing but disastrous, and the prophets of doom are abundant. In this book Ridley puts forward his surprisingly simple answer to how humans progress, arguing that specialization is key to progress, that we progress when we trade, and that we only really trade productively when we trust each other. Furthermore, Ridley argues that the exchange of ideas is at the heart of progress and as ideas today are being exchanged at an unprecedented rate, it makes sense to be optimistic about the future.

Ridley’s book has caused some outrage and his opponents have claimed that if we continue down this road of “progress” we’re all doomed. But that’s the thing. Ridley points out that humankind is a curious species that constantly finds new paths – to believe that the future will resemble the past is mere folly.

“The twenty-first century,” Ridley says, “will be a magnificent time to be alive.”


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One Response to “The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley”

  1. Stephen Page (eudaimonia) Says:

    How refreshing. I also am a bit tired of apocalyptic stories, not just in books but in the papers, on the news, in everyday conversations.

    I enjoy reading your reviews.

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