Aug 22, 2013
Listening to the news or hyperlinking our way through blog posts, it might seem like the end is nigh. Whether the coming crisis is environmental, economic or some intoxicating mix of the two, the message is always basically the same: humanity is about to screw everything up…forever! As Matt Ridley reveals in his 2010 prize-winning, bestseller The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves this eternal pessimism has more to do with human psychology than it does with the facts of the situation. Throughout history, there have always been professional harbingers of doom. In the old days, doomsdayers predicted man's greed and lust would bring about divine retribution. These days, we're treated to the idea that we might bring about our own destruction because of our relentless pursuit of wealth. In our desire for more food, bigger cars and a more comfortable lifestyle, we will use up all the oil, overheat the planet, pollute the oceans and wipe out all the polar bears. Notice any similarities? Man gratifies his desires…and is punished.While the apocalyptic scenarios on the nightly news might feel plausible, the facts say something very different: the future has never looked more promising. More and more people are being lifted out of poverty. The environment is improving. And all of this is due to the very technologies we're supposed to fear: pesticides, fertilizers, fracking and genetic engineering. Pessimism may feel reasonable, but optimism is what's rational. The Rational Optimist is a tour de force that not only restores your faith in the future, its overview of man's relentless ability to solve problems makes you proud to be human. Perhaps that's why Michael Callen references it all the time.In this episode, Matt, Bryan and Hunter discuss everything from why organic farming is bad for the environment to how the 2008 financial crisis refined Matt's view on the proper role of government in the economy. (Note: Matt Ridley was Chairman of Northern Rock, one of Britain's largest banks at the time.)Before writing The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley got a doctorate in Zoology from Oxford and wrote five books on biology: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, & What Makes Us Human and Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. In case you're wondering, these were all bestsellers and also won lots of prizes.