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The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves Hardcover – May 18, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
"What?!" you say. What about Rousseau, Marx, Ehrlich, Marcuse, and all of those other critics of society! What about all the stuff we hear about how capitalism exploits the poor, reduces living standards, rapes the environment, etc, etc. The first few chapters of Ridley's book are devoted to showing that, on all fronts, markets have actually produced higher living standards FOR ALL (and especially the poor, as also shown in Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies), MORE leisure time for all, and - here's the most surprising - better environmental conditions.
The next several chapters are a history of how this progress happened. To be honest, these chapters may be the most dry as they are very detail-laden and repetitive in that they stress the same theme across time - that specialization leads to ingenuity and progress.Read more ›
Well, one reason might be the pleasures of an utterly readable book. Unlike talk-show polemicists, Matt Ridley uses good-natured eloquence, serious erudition and incisive wit to deflate the imminent-disaster scenarios which dominate our evening news, academic and political discourse. Despite its length, the book is remarkable for its brevity and the sheer quotability of its prose. (A reader cribbing zinger quotes will soon have writer's cramp.)
Another reason might be the challenge of unfamiliar ideas, of cleaning the mental attic of the baggage left by cultural osmosis. No book can guarantee final truth, but a fresh perspective can provide plenty of creative stimulation for a skeptical mind.Read more ›
According to Matt Ridley, trade was and is the essential element in human progress. He suggests that the first farmers were already traders and used their static location and accumulated inventory to meet hunter-gatherer demand. He also credits the farmer as the creator of property rights. Hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian sharing the hunt and enforcing non-compliance. A farmer who plants a field expects to harvest it and store or trade the surplus. This, Ridley posits was the origin of private wealth.
Ridley maintains that progress is dependent on idea sharing. As population density increases, the availability of new ideas and differentiation of occupation allows those with extra time to make use of these ideas.
Twentieth century collectivist bias leads one to ask "who was in charge" looking for a central initiator of policy. Ridley suggests that the world is a complex adaptive system, where trade and progress emerged from the interaction of individuals. It was an evolutionary rather than a planned process.
He recounts historical examples of institutional and industrial stagnation from the Bronze Age to British Rail and the U.S. Postal Service. What Ridley says they have in common is an attitude that rewards caution and discourages experiment. A planned economy requires perfect knowledge. The possibility of new knowledge makes a steady state or economic equilibrium model invalid.
He says the Dark Ages were a massive back to the land hippie movement minus the trust funds, similarly the Maoist Cultural Revolution.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book on why to be optimistic about our world. The author doesn't even try to account for externalities like God or the Devil or human nature, but as far as it goes it... Read morePublished 12 days ago by Matthew Formica
Finally someone who is not angry with the world and is willing to help the rest of us find a way to look positively at it. Empowering.Published 14 days ago by Diane D. Browne
The message of this book about being optimistic towards the future is well argued and backed up with evidence. Read morePublished 26 days ago by Torrey Jaeckle
A magnificent read. One of the most important books on political economy out there. It brings home the reality in clear, unmistakable fashion like few others can.Published 1 month ago by Henry F Field
This is an uplifting and even cheerful book to read. If you are like me and you worry
about climate change and the environment, then you may be put off a bit by... Read more
Ridley's thesis is that the world has arrived at a stage where the unhampered sharing of ideas between individuals can result in innovation and productivity without limit, with a... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Hunter Hastings