Is Optimism Rational?

by: Bill Walker

Optimism is out of favor. But then as Matt Ridley points out in The Rational Optimist, optimism has never been IN favor. Even in the fastest-growing booms in human history, “experts” were always sure that doom was imminent. We were going to run out of wood, then of coal, then of whale oil, then of petroleum, then of petroleum again, then of petroleum again. (We were never going to run out of uranium or thorium, but that was fixed by running out of the permits to build nuclear reactors.)

In the 1960s, the world was going to be destroyed by fossil fuels, by running out of fossil fuels, by acid rain, by overpopulation, by pesticides, by famine, and by Global Cooling. But what actually happened was that fuel production went up, population growth rates fell in every nation (except Kazakhstan, thanks a lot you idiot Borat), pesticide use dropped off with the invention of BT crops, food production went up until recently (we still produce more crops every year, but they are drained off to make ethanol and not to feed people), acid rain was overblown, and you know what happened to Global Cooling (it’s still a huge threat as far as anyone knows, one good asteroid or volcano and it’s Fimbulwinter for sure! I mean, ummm, everyone believes in global warming so there won’t be any more Ice Ages, because, ummm… Al Gore, QED. Take no notice of my pack of Malamutes, they’re just show dogs. Really. They mainly guard the snowmobile, anyway.)

Doom: The Big No-Show Of History

The example of overpopulation is fascinating. Every culture on the planet has cut its birth rate as soon as infant mortality went down and wealth went up. The extra population that was generated in the meantime has allowed an increase in economic specialization and an increase in per capita wage rates (except in the US and a few other banana republics, because our government burden has increased while the Indians, Chinese and Russians reduced theirs).

So the expert predictions of the 1960s were precisely wrong. More population caused more wealth, and more wealth reduced population growth rates. Even reducing infant mortality reduced population growth rates. So the experts changed their views, right? Well, they did change a little… they quit putting dates on their predictions of doom.

Continue reading article

Reposted from