An idea walks into a bar. She meets another idea. They get together, and nine months later (or maybe it's nine minutes or seconds? It's not clear how it works with ideas), a new idea is born. A baby idea with the best traits of both parents.
When this happens a lot, everyone gets smarter and the world gets better.
Did you know that ideas have sex?
It's a weird concept, but the more I think about it, the more right it seems. I learned it from British journalist Matt Ridley.
Ridley, author of "The Rational Optimist," says the reason life gets better is that ideas have sex.
"Ideas spread through trade," he told me. "And when they meet, they can mate, and you can produce combinations of different ideas. I think a good example is a camera pill, which takes a picture of your insides on the way through. It came about (during) a conversation between a gastroenterologist and a guided missile designer ... a process very similar to sex in biology, because through sex, genes meet and recombine, and you get new combinations of genes. That's what causes innovation in biology, and innovation in culture."
And life improves.
"Our living standards have shot up in my lifetime. The average income of the average person, corrected for inflation, is three times what it was when I was born (in 1958). And life span is 30 percent longer."
This didn't happen because of central planning. It's the spontaneous market generated from free individuals that sets and keeps it in motion.
Ridley goes on to argue that even sex between the ideas of dumb people produces better results than those of a brilliant central planner.
"If you look at human history ... lots of people in a room who are talking to each other, however stupid they are, can achieve a lot more than a lot of clever people in the room who never talk to each other. So it's not individual intelligence that counts in how well a society works. It's how well people communicate and exchange ideas with each other."
In light of this, it's not hard to understand why Ridley calls himself a rational optimist. He reminds me the late, great economist Julian Simon, author of "the Ultimate Resource," who for years stood virtually alone in explaining the benefits of population growth, free exchange and the mixing of ideas.
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