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“The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves”

June 4, 2010

by Matt Ridley – Review

I know the power of optimism from personal experience.  If you don’t see it in yourself, look at other people.  The ones who expect good things to happen experience personal growth and happiness.  The ones who insist on examining every negative stagnate at best and become whiners at worst.  So I was up for this book.

The author plays cute that ideas “have sex,” an unfunny way of saying the exchange of ideas spreads knowledge.  It does, and ideas do beget ideas.  It’s a simple concept, like adapting a recipe.

So, the exchange of ideas combined with trading goods and services has, over the course of human history improved, generally speaking, the human condition.   There are pitfalls, of course, but things do get better over time.  The author makes a good point that if we don’t use it – the knowledge and improved technology accrued through the exchange of ideas, goods and services – we’ll lose it.

There is no question that travel and trade have and do inform and benefit society.  Unfortunately, this book is about as interesting to read as a phone book, and will surely offend those of liberal/environmental mindset.  I’m a tough old broad, but I winced quite a few times after reading, “but it’s getting better” in response to some things, like child labor and environmental disasters.  It is difficult to persuade those who believe we are in a world of trouble that in the long run, things will continue to improve.  And this book does not help.

This book is available at

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