The Rational Optimist

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Matt Ridley explains how and why life is improving around the world. Though the world is far from perfect, food availability, income, and life span are up, while disease, child mortality, and violence are down.

In The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Ridley covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, and asserts that the human race’s capacity for innovation and change means that life will get better for more and more people in the 21st century.

Event: Matt Ridley will be speaking and signing books
Wednesday, May 19, 7:00-9:00 pm
New York Academy of Sciences
7 World Trade Center, 250 Greenwich Street
40th floor, conference room


Matt Ridley

Comments [19]

Frank S. Robinson from Albany, NY

Anyone interested in Ridley's "Optimism" book should be aware that my own prior 2009 book, THE CASE FOR RATIONAL OPTIMISM, thoroughly discusses the same points, but actually tackles the entire range of the pessimist litany. See

May. 18 2010 10:34 PM

Wow. Ridley is just wildly inconsistent. MIT economist Lester Thurow (among others) have argued that the rate of technological innovation is slowing. I don't think anyone would suggest that the innovation from 1980 to 2010 matches that from 1880 to 1910 or from 1910 to 1940.

The rate of technological innovation is certainly not constant.

As for freedom, more than a few people (including Simon Johnson, Paul Krugman, Eliot Spitzer) are arguing that the US is becoming less free, less democratic.

May. 18 2010 12:37 PM
matthew from brooklyn

Windfarms kill very few birds (eagles included). On average no more than 5 birds are killed a year for each turbine. Tens of thousands of birds die each year by smashing into tall building.

p.s. I am a biologist who works with birds and on wind projects

May. 18 2010 12:37 PM

Get the hook! I want to hear about the perfect house! I've had enough

May. 18 2010 12:34 PM
Shana from Brooklyn

Genetically modified crops actually do not help the environment. The Times has recently come out with some articles about the appearance of superweeds which are resistant to Roundup Ready. New reports have come out showing that crops using this type of technology are actually resulting in increased pesticide use. The answer to this issue seems to be more and harsher chemicals.

May. 18 2010 12:34 PM
Ray L from Astoria, Queens

Would Dr. Ridley like to comment on George Monbiot's accusation that his political philosophy is related to Ridley's association with Northern Rock?

May. 18 2010 12:34 PM
PL Hayes

No, organic food is NOT “more nutritious”. That is organic industry marketing nonsense. The nutrition problem is with *processed* food (didn't we go over all this before? With Michael Pollan?)

May. 18 2010 12:32 PM
Katherine Jackson from LES

Please ask about factory farming of meat & poutry.

May. 18 2010 12:31 PM

Killing food, not just less healthy

Oh you need to read Weston Price - Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

Nitrates come from using fossil fuels

He is WRONG!!!!

May. 18 2010 12:29 PM
Richard Johnston from Upper West Side

"That allowed them to accumulate capital, as it were." ... so to speak, ... if you will, ...if you please. Why do Brits put these silly expressions in their sentences

May. 18 2010 12:29 PM

Ridley is right about the demographic transition. He is right about the population projections. But net arable land surface of the Earth is declining. In addition to concern about oil supplies, there is growing concern about phosphorus, which is absolutely essential to the massive agricultural output per acre that supports our population.

Economists do have indices for measuring happiness. The country with the highest GDP and one of the three or four highest GDPs per capita -- the United States -- fairs poorly on such scales compared to all of the countries of Western Europe, despite their lower GDPs per capita.

And, as we learned this past week, Neanderthals were talking to somebody. We Homo sapiens have Neanderthal DNA in our systems.

May. 18 2010 12:28 PM

Jonn K --

If I'm Bozo, you're clownshoes.

May. 18 2010 12:27 PM
Jack from Brooklyn

Statistically, my personal happiness has gone up ten-fold when I stop listening to Matt Ridley.

May. 18 2010 12:24 PM
Jonn K. from New Vaudville

Mozo?? More like BOZO, am I right fellas???

May. 18 2010 12:20 PM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn

Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, etc.....

So ultimately, Ridley is really only rehashing a Grand Unified Trickledown Theory.

May. 18 2010 12:19 PM
Alaina from Weehawken

I have recently been researching reactions to the introduction of nuclear weapons and energy, and I think this example shows that people are both overly optimistic and pessimistic. Depictions of terrifying, apocalyptic consequences existed alongside predictions of endless cheap energy that would bring about a utopia. I think there is danger in both sides; for example some of our hopes for technologies that will combat or work around climate change may be damaging to motivation for reform today. How does Mr. Ridley feel we can balance these impulses for extreme hope and fear?

May. 18 2010 12:19 PM

If you are over 55 years old, the idea that most people are better off then they were 50 years ago is ludicrous, at least in this country.

If we were better off and there wasn't a black president, there wouldn't be a Tea Party.

May. 18 2010 12:16 PM
Hugh Sansom

So what is Ridley's point? That because he can pick and choose and use some statistical gimmicks to create a rosy picture, the picture must be rosy forever? Dow 36,000?

As for working, Americans are working more than they were 30 years ago to bring home the same yearly income.

Handwaving. Ridley is just handwaving.

May. 18 2010 12:16 PM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn

It's easy to take Matt Ridley's line if you choose as selectively as he does.

Per capita GDP has gone up in the US, but Americans aren't seeing that. Incomes have declined, when controlled for inflation, in the past 20 years. They have remained roughly flat for 30 years. The growth in GDP is going to the wealthy.

Ridley's gimmick of averaging across populations is just that -- a gimmick.

May. 18 2010 12:14 PM

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