Pessimism is the lazy stepchild of vigilance.
There. Ive said it. Thats the one bit of wisdom for today.
Why bring it up? Well, theres another new book out that I want to read, but probably wont, for lack of time. Its The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley.
Ridley is one of those biology journalists who relate recent advances in the life sciences to how we think and feel and move about on the planet. You know, one of those Learn From the Baboons guys.
Ive not read his new book. I am pretty sure Ive read bits of at least one of his previous works, as one reads books one doesnt finish not because they arent good — or even great — but because, well, theres that meeting at one, office crisis at two, a half-hour to write at five, and the kids softball game at six.
But his new book looks important. At the very least it hits on a theme important to me, an important theme for all of us: Prosperity and progress.
I consider myself an optimist. But right now, pessimism is all the rage. And Im not just talking about the general economic climate. I easily fall into it, too. Our government and its leaders, the politicians and bureaucrats, have got themselves caught in a behavioral trap. They just cant stop spending above revenues, increasing government indebtedness, and in general doing stupid things (like setting up a new entitlement program right as the old ones become insolvent).
But there is hope. At least Ridley says so, and Im inclined to believe him, in part because he doesnt fall prey to false hopes. He doesnt even buy the false hope of government funding where it is applied to his field, science:
There is no evidence that government, by funding blue-sky science or in any other way, is specially good at making innovation happen. Most innovation happens through the tinkering of technologists, not the thinking of scientists. And government is poor at picking winners, great at picking losers.
Civilization in its distributed form, the widespread lattice of social networks partly pinned down by the phrase the market, works far better at the selection process. And it provides spurs to progress, the carrot of profit (success) and the stick of loss (failure). And it will probably do this even if hobbled by our misguided and increasingly corrupt politicians.