Arguably the best book ever written on the power of entrepreneurial capitalism – The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley – should be required reading by anyone interested in protecting and defending the free enterprise way of life.
In an awe-inspiring tour de force of exposition, Mr. Ridley takes the reader all the way back through human economic history. Back to the 1st entrepreneurs who discovered fire and the copper axe, through the Phoenicians, through the great trading cultures of India and China before their long (and government induced) sleeps, through the age of the Medici and the early Dutch wellsprings of modern trade, through the 19th Century Industrial Revolution in England and Scotland, to the American Century and the dawns of the computer, information, and communication ages.
As the book title implies, it is a tale of sturdy optimism and hope. He takes head-on the naysayers, the pessimists, and the chattering classes that earn their bread via hawking fears of impending woe and doom. Some tidbits of his refreshing wisdom:
Africa – Getting Better Slowly But Surely. Those who hold (either overtly or more quietly because of political correctness) that Africa will not emerge anytime soon from its poverty and strife are just dead wrong. He points to the inspiring example of Botswana, where a hard-earned culture of property rights and rule of law have fueled economic growth rates to rival the highest-flying Asian Tiger. And he notes the cascade of statistics pointing to standards of living increasing dramatically – as productivity has been unleashed by the mobile phone revolution across the continent.
The Climate Change Mafia. Controversially but powerfully, Ridley defends fossil fuel use as being the key driver of modern economic growth. And he points out the vastly under reported costs of “sexy fuel” alternatives – solar, wind, bio-fuels, et al. You may not agree with all of Ridley’s points here, but if you care about this debate, you should hear him out.
Optimism as the Intelligent Choice. Most excitedly, Ridley takes head-on ANYONE that claims that the present time is anything but the greatest in human history.
How can Ridley credibly claim this? Very simple – from that tale of human history with which Ridley begins his book. He makes the overwhelming case that the 2 key drivers of human prosperity since time immemorial have been innovation and trade.
And as they are both happening today faster and in greater quantity than at anytime ever, the result is more prosperity for more human beings than at any time ever.
Now you probably know that. But here is something that I had forgotten in the face of all of the talk of recession and global financial crisis out there – that the statistical odds are overwhelmingly in favor of everything just getting better!
For all of us, for our children, and our grandchildren. As in more prosperity, better education, more safety from premature death and disease, and yes even more happiness.
As Mr. Ridley points out, most of our grandparents had standards of living not much greater than that of Zambians today. And by corollary, if current trends continue, the grandchildren of today’s Zambians will have standard of living’s equal to those of ours today.
And as for our grandchildren, well they will live in a world, like our grandparents before us, that we can only dream of.
And as Mr. Ridley prove conclusively in this wonderful book, for all of this prosperity and bounty it is the entrepreneurs and the innovators above all that we have to thank.
So thank you, Mr. and Ms. Entrepreneur.
And thank you, talented Mr. Ridley.
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