How Did You Miss This, Ridley? Maybe Because You're a Limey.
Matt Ridley, in his new book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, does a fantastic job of debunking the prevailing pessimism from previous decades: "In the 1960s the population and explosion and global famine were top of the charts, in the 1970s the exhaustion of resources, in the 1980s acid rain, in the 1990s pandemics"; he runs through each of these plus many other apocalyptic scenarios predicted by scientists (DDT, mass extinction, deforestation, the evils of the railroad, cancer epidemics in children, etc.) and then he comprehensively illustrates that none of these panned out in the devastating manner that was predicted and that the average lifespan, amount of leisure time, freedom from disease, and living conditions have improved over time for all humans-- but then he ends with the "great pessimisms" of today: Africa and global warming and when he describes Botswana (an incredible success story on a generally impoverished continent) he explains that they-- like many African nations-- are saddled with this list of failures: 1) they are landlocked 2) they have poor roads 3) exploding birth rates 4) AIDS and other diseases 5) they have never fully recovered from the slave trade 6) they were once colonies 7) their most promising industry-- agriculture-- is stifled by price controls and trade barriers 8) there is ethnic strife 9) the windfalls of resource wealth serve only to corrupt democratic politicians . . . but despite these problems, Botswana succeeded because of its good institutions-- "people could own property without fear of confiscation by chiefs or thieves"-- and it was barely paid attention to "by colonial rule" and so had to develop its own policies, and as I was reading this I was waiting for Ridley to compare Botswana to America . . . if you look at that list of "problems," each and every one has a parallel to America when it was first developing, and the factors that allowed America to succeed-- good institutions and the fact that we were too far from Britain for them to really police us, also makes sense-- but Ridley never made this connection, perhaps because he is British (and I've yet to finish the final chapter and see what he has to say about global warming).