David R. Henderson  

Rational Optimist Review

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This is how I end my review of Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist. I defended it from some of the charges against it by William Easterly.

And a book that "only" shows us how economic freedom makes most Americans and many people in other countries wealthier in important respects than John D. Rockefeller, a book that "only" shows that we can have somewhat higher population and higher living standards for most of the world, a book that "only" tells us how to have both more food and more land for wilderness, a book that "only" offsets the dreary, people-hating pessimism that is all around us and is now even in the mind of the White House science adviser? That is not worth a lot? Psshaw. But I will end by letting Ridley answer. He writes:

It is precisely because there is still far more suffering and scarcity in the world than I or anybody else with a heart would wish that ambitious optimism is morally mandatory.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
AC writes:

I am surprised by and really don't understand Easterly's hostility. Is he trying to make new friends? It sounds like a review written by a typical leftist ignorant of economics. Perhaps the only thing I agree with is the metaphor "ideas have sex" being somewhat cringe-worthy, but of course that is a trivial point.

Troy Camlpin writes:

Excellent review. Frederick Turner points out exactly what you do in regards to the necessity of unequalness in trade for there to be a trade. He observes that in essence, both people have to think of themselves as having benefited more -- and, thus, each is in part giving a gift to the other in the increase in value. Mutual trade is thus generous.

Bob Knaus writes:

You guys were actually able to finish the book? I agreed with most of his points, but I found it sloppily written and too wordy. About halfway through I deleted it off my Kindle.

Easterly’s review of Ridley’s book complains that his argument on the importance of exchange and free markets doesn’t explain everything about the human situation. Well, of course it doesn’t, because life is complex (which is actually part of Ridley’s argument). But that complexity doesn’t justify the review’s frankly cavalier treatment of what Ridley does have to say about one truly crucial aspect of the human story.

Professor Easterly seems to pine for a different book than Ridley’s, one that bravely takes on the entirety of the pessimist catechism (and explains its seductiveness). In fact, there is just such a book: mine, The Case for Rational Optimism, published by Transaction at Rutgers University (2009). It addresses not only such topics as war, the environment, the economy, technology, etc., but also the philosophical and psychological aspects of optimism versus pessimism. See http://www.fsrcoin.com/k.htm

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