When you’ve got two such thought provoking and controversial authors as Matt Ridley and Bill Easterly in a single blog, the results can never be boring. Here’s Matt Ridley reviewing Easterly’s latest book, “The Tyranny of Experts”:
Imagine that in 2010 more than 20,000 farmers in rural Ohio had been forced from their land by soldiers, their cows slaughtered, their harvest torched and one of their sons killed — all to make way for a British forestry project, financed and promoted by the World Bank.
Here’s a really interesting bit of data via @HansRosling about the amazing decline in deaths resulting from natural disasters. Even though the number of disasters reported and the number of people affected has climbed substantially (no surprise given the better telecommunications and technology we have access to these days, and the global growth in population), the number of deaths from natural disasters has dropped by around 90% since 1920. As Matt Ridley has argued in The Rational Optimist, this may be explained as much by preparedness and relative wealth of the affected region than anything else: in 2007 category five hurricane Dean hit the well prepared (and relatively wealthy) Yucatán Peninsula and killed around 45 people; a year later the category four cyclone Nargis hit the poorly prepared and impoverished Burma killing around 138,000 people.
As the average age of a country’s population rises, so people get more and more neophobic and gloomy. There is immense vested interest in pessimism, too. No charity ever raised money for its cause by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page by telling his editor that he wanted to write a story about how disaster was now less likely. Good news is no news, so the media megaphone is at the disposal of any politician, journalist or activist who can plausibly warn of a coming disaster. As a result, pressure groups and their customers in the media go to great lengths to search even the most cheerful of statistics for glimmers of doom […] Apocaholics (the word is Gary Alexander’s – he calls himself a recovering apocaholic) exploit and profit from the natural pessimism of human nature, the innate reactionary in every person. For 200 years pessimists have had all the headlines, even though optimists have far more often been right. Archpessimists are feted, showered with honours and rarely challenged, let alone confronted with their past mistakes.
More provocative, disruptive and thought-provoking stuff from Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist. Are fossil fuels actually helping to green the planet? Are species really going extinct on the scale we presume? Are bio-fuels causing more harm than good? Is intensive farming the answer to better conservation of natural habitats?
Whether you find yourself enraged or enlightened, this video is well worth 20 mins of your time.
The world of things is often subject to diminishing returns. The world of ideas is not. The ever-increasing exchange of ideas causes the ever-increasing rate of innovation in the modern world. There isn’t even a theoretical possibility of exhausting our supply of ideas, discoveries, and inventions.
David Hume thought commerce ‘rather favourable to liberty, and has a natural tendency to preserve, if not produce a free government’ and that ‘nothing is more favourable to the rise of politeness and learning, than a number of neighbouring and independent states, connected together by commerce and policy’.
Even the Dutch, those epitomes of seventeenth-century enterprise, fell under the curse of resources in the late twentieth century when they found too much natural gas: the Dutch disease, they called it, as their inflated currency hurt their exporters. Japan spent the first half of the twentieth century jealously seeking to grab resources and ended up in ruins; it spent the second half of the century trading and selling without resources and ended up topping the lifespan league.