Friday, May 21, 2010

The Rational Optimist

I heard Matt Ridley speak today at the Mercatus Center about his new book, The Rational Optimist. The book documents how in many ways, the world is (and has been) rapidly becoming a better place. To quote Ridley:
Prosperity spreads, technology progresses, poverty declines, disease retreats, fecundity falls, happiness increases, violence atrophies, freedom grows, knowledge flourishes, the environment improves and wilderness expands.
Ridley backs up this statement with many statistics showing the progress of technology, health, lifespan, falling poverty rates, increased productivity in agriculture (including requiring less land than ever before to feed growing populations), and much more.

I haven't read his book yet, but look forward to doing so soon. Count me firmly in Ridley's camp as a believer that we have much to be happy about and many reasons for believing that the future is looking bright.

Here is a review of The Rational Optimist by John Tierney in The New York Times and a blog to go along with the book.

To help illustrate Ridley's point, here is a graph and associated research showing how much worldwide poverty has declined since 1970. (The graph is adjusted for 2000 dollars.) It is not just decreasing as a percentage of the world's population, but also in absolute numbers as well.


Frank S. Robinson said...

Those interested in Ridley's very good book might wish to know about my own book, THE CASE FOR RATIONAL OPTIMISM (Transaction Books, Rutgers University, 2009), which makes quite similar points and arguments, but develops the case for optimism over a broader range of subject areas. See

Steve said...

Thanks for sharing this resource, Brian. It's such an important point, because so many people, overwhelmed by the challenges and complexity of modern life, overlook the simple truths of how much better we have it than people centuries, or even millenia, ago.

I don't have to worry about a whole slew of things that my ancestors did: tribal warfare, drought, famine, dying from infection, spending all day plowing the fields so my family can eat, etc.

So here's to the present, and to new possibilities in the future!