The Corner

The Rational Doomsayer

Contra Derb et al, the NYT’s John Tierney makes the case for optimism, borrowing from Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist.

Progress this century could be impeded by politics, wars, plagues or climate change, but Dr. Ridley argues that, as usual, the “apocaholics” are overstating the risks and underestimating innovative responses.

“The modern world is a history of ideas meeting, mixing, mating and mutating,” Dr. Ridley writes. “And the reason that economic growth has accelerated so in the past two centuries is down to the fact that ideas have been mixing more than ever before.”

Our progress is unsustainable, he argues, only if we stifle innovation and trade, the way China and other empires did in the past. Is that possible?

In a word, yes. I’m pretty sure that’s the rational doomsayer’s concern.

Well, European countries are already banning technologies based on the precautionary principle requiring advance proof that they’re risk-free. Americans are turning more protectionist and advocating byzantine restrictions like carbon tariffs. Globalization is denounced by affluent Westerners preaching a return to self-sufficiency.

That, plus we are spending most of tomorrow’s income today, consigning us to a future of low-quality growth and, eventually, the abrupt realization that all those lunches weren’t really free.

I don’t think the rational doomsayer is predicting a total apocalypse — just that things will get worse before they get better.

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