I’m reading an extraordinary rendering of human progress by Matt Ridley titled The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves.
There is much to recommend this book on why/how humanity prospers (through exchange which leads to greater specialization, which spurs refinement and innovation, which leads to greater prosperity for all).
Ridley illuminates through a breath-taking sweep of ideas, from evolutionary biology to human pre-history to today’s economics.
A few quick ideas from my reading so far:
- “Self-sufficiency was dead tens of thousands of years ago.” It was human interdependence that led to humanity’s great advancement.
- “Interdependence spreads risk.” It becomes progressively less risky to live the more interdependent we become. “Self-sufficiency is therefore not the route to prosperity.”
- It is not the brain of homo sapiens that gives us our gifts — other hominids including Neanderthals had similar brain capacity — it is our collective brain. It is the way we make use of our collective abilities that spawns our creative culture.
- “Prosperity is simply time saved.”
- “Exchange [trade] is to technology as sex is to evolution.” It breeds the new.
And he’s pithy too — one throwaway phrase for you:
- “Imagine if you had to be completely self-sufficient (not just pretending, like Thoreau).” Oh, you do not want the day you’d have to live through if you had to do every single thing yourself. But in case you think you do, Ridley takes you through it.
Why this book has not yet taken on the mythic status of The Tipping Point I do not know . . .
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