(7/10) The Rational Optimist is Matt Ridley’s attempt to make all of us more optimistic about our lives, the world, and the future. The book takes us from the beginning of homo sapiens hundreds of thousands of years ago to the present day. His key theme throughout the book is free trade. He argues that through the free trade of goods, services, and ideas humans are able to specialize and increase productivity collectively. Free trade allows us to increase free time and productive time by allowing others to perform services for us. For example, nearly everyone in the developed world no longer hunts or raises their own food. Because food and other basic needs are met through free trade and exchange, people can specialize in other areas and we all benefit from this.
His explanations in the book are mostly very good. He sites key stats, tells his own version of historical events, and persuades the reader into his optimistic way of thinking. The only part I didn’t like is his description of climate change. His optimistic views about climate change and his proposed solutions are very irrational. For example, one of his solutions to ocean rise is for people to simply relocate. Relocation of hundreds of millions of people in coastal cities around the world is not even close to feasible or realistic. This would cause the worst humanitarian crisis in human history. He needs to take another look at the facts around this important issue.