Day By Day

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Rational Optimist

Brendan O'Neill has a terrific review of Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist in the American Conservative.

Why, he asks, are we so pessimistic about the future when the historical record shows that at no time or place in the past have so many people enjoyed as rich and rewarding lives as they do now. The record of the past few centuries has been one of constant amelioration of human want and suffering.

The contrast between how we live today and how people lived just a few decades ago should, by all rights, be enough to perk up even the most miserable of miserabilists. Yes, there’s still poverty, he writes, especially in Africa, but overall “this generation of human beings has access to more calories, watts, lumen-hours, square feet, gigabytes, megahertz, light years, nanometers, bushels per acre, miles per gallon, food miles, air miles, and of course dollars than any that went before.”

There are more people (or “mouths to feed,” as the pessimists insultingly refer to us) than ever, yet we are better fed and healthier than ever, too. Since 1800, Ridley points out, the world population of human beings has risen sixfold—from 1 billion to over 6 billion—yet in the same period, average life expectancy has more than doubled and average real income has risen ninefold. In just the past 50 years, the average human “earned nearly three times as much money (corrected for inflation), ate one-third more calories of food, buried one-third as many of her children, and could expect to live one-third longer.” 

It's a bracing read, one that should be kept in mind the next time you hear the gloom mongers pontificate on the state of the world. 

Check it out here.

No comments: