Taking The Long View – Reading Therapy for Our Time

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January 7, 2019 by Anders Ingemarson

As we take stock of 2018 a silver lining may seem elusive. If you’re a leftist, you probably consider our current President an existential threat. If you’re in the President’s camp, you most likely view the mainstream media-led progressive onslaught through a different pair of life-or-death lenses. And if you don’t feel at home in either camp, which is most of us, you’re either watching with dread the spectacle of insults being lobbed back and forth or tune out altogether to preserve your sanity.

2019 doesn’t hold much hope for change. If anything, the frenzy will escalate with Democrats on the warrior’s path to impeachment, and presidential hopefuls jockeying for position ahead of the 2020 election. But if we zoom out from this Kabuki-esque ritual of daily tweets and counter-tweets there are broader trends of encouraging progress worthy of our attention. Despite the constant barrage of doom-and-gloom messaging the world is in fact becoming a lot better place for a lot more people.

Here are four favorite authors who are taking the long view, transcending the daily political bickering, drowning out the noise with their impressive research into the state of human affairs—and conclusively giving us the recipe for future progress. Two are already classics, and the other two are well under way to attain that status. You will find them powerful antidotes to the negativity, fear, and pessimism that is far too prevalent around us. Reading or re-reading them is therapy for our time.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling

This book is the literary legacy of Swedish physician, statistician, international health professor and TED star Hans Rosling who passed away far too early from pancreatic cancer at age 68 in 2017.

In his book, Rosling suggests the vast majority of human beings are wrong about the state of the world. He shows that his test subjects—and by implication most of us—think the world is poorer, less healthy, and more dangerous than it is. Rosling recommends thinking about the world as divided into four levels based on income brackets, criticizing the notion of dividing the planet into the “developed world” and the “developing world” as outdated.

Rosling’s fact-based optimism—or factfulness as he prefers to call it—is contagious. With its uplifting message, the book is an easy and engaging read that will leave you wishing for more.

As a bonus, watch his masterful and highly entertaining TED tribute to The Magic Washing Machine.

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg

Yes, ten more reasons and yes, another Swede. Published in 2016 and selected as a book of the year by both The Economist and The Observer, Johan Norberg’s Progress is another shot in the arm for anybody on the verge of despair over the state of current affairs. In just over 200 eminently readable pages, Norberg offers an illuminating and heartening analysis of just how far we have come in tackling the greatest problems facing humanity. In the face of fear-mongering, darkness and division, the facts are unequivocal: the golden age is now. Norberg, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and Media Director at the Free To Choose Network, correctly ties this progress to the Enlightenment ideas of scientific, political and economic freedom that after more than 200 years are alive and kicking among the peoples of the world despite frequent terrible setbacks, and despite being under continuous attack by much of the intelligentsia.

For more Norberg in action, check out his Free To Choose Network Dead Wrong 1 minute 30 seconds video series where he dispels common political and economic myths by the dozen.

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley probably doesn’t require an introduction, and many if not most are familiar with and have read his already classic The Rational Optimist published in 2010. In an imaginative take on economic history, the 5th Viscount Ridley (yes, he’s British and a peer, but don’t hold it against him) makes the case for an economics of hope, arguing that the benefits of commerce, technology, innovation, and change—what Ridley calls cultural evolution—will inevitably increase human prosperity.

The Rational Optimist primarily focuses on the benefits of what Ridley calls “the innate human tendency to trade goods and services.” Ridley argues that this trait is the source of human prosperity, and that as people increasingly specialize in their skill sets, we will have increased trade and even more prosperity.

The book is full of fascinating historical connections that are sure to challenge your thinking.

For a preview, watch Matt Ridley summarizing the book in his TED talk When Ideas Have Sex.

The Ultimate Resource by Julian Simon

This survey would not be complete without giving credit where credit is due. First published in 1981 partly as a rebuttal to Paul Ehrlich’s dystopian The Population Bomb and with a second updated version in 1998, Julian Simon’s The Ultimate Resource is the father of all human progress championing economics texts published in the past 40 years. One can hardly overestimate the direct and indirect impact it has had in countering the pessimism that has largely dominated the field for the past 100 years.

More theoretical than the others, yet eminently readable and chockful of supporting statistics, it is a treasure trove of arguments against every conceivable modern-day doomsday myth: resource scarcity, overpopulation, climate change, and many more.

“Arguing that the ultimate resource is the human imagination coupled to the human spirit, Julian Simon led a vigorous challenge to conventional beliefs about scarcity of energy and natural resources, pollution of the environment, the effects of immigration, and the ‘perils of overpopulation’. The comprehensive data, careful quantitative research, and economic logic …[questions] widely held professional judgments about the threat of overpopulation, and Simon’s celebrated bet with Paul Ehrlich about resource prices in the 1980s enhanced the public attention—both pro and con—that greeted this controversial book.” [1]

The book is shamefully expensive by today’s standards and an eBook version does not appear to be available, but you can pick up a used hardcover or paperback copy for around 20 dollars on Amazon which is a terrific bargain.

Julian Simon sadly passed away at the young age of 65 in 1998, but undoubtedly left the world a better place thanks to in no small part The Ultimate Resource. YouTube has some rare footage of him discussing the book.

These authors are no Pollyannas in their assessment of the past and the future. They are well aware of—if not in these exact words—the threats to human progress of ignorance and pessimism fueled by the “I-know-better-than-you” collectivist mainstream; threats that if realized could set back progress for generations.

But they also point the way to dispelling the doomsday myths that are continuously propagated all around us in no small part by people with an anti-human progress agenda—and seized on by politicians whose mission in life is to get elected and re-elected at seemingly any price.

They show us the recipe for long-term success: facts, facts and more facts, resting on a pro-human progress theoretical foundation of individualism and freedom, communicated tirelessly but positively and engagingly.

They make it abundantly clear that criticizing the opposition’s views is not enough. On the contrary, criticism should take a backseat to, and always be offered in the context of, well communicated positive alternatives that are part of a larger vision.

To have a lasting impact we need to take the long view. We are standard bearers in a fight for individualism and human progress that has raged since the beginning of civilization. We live in the best of times (be sure to enjoy them), we know the path forward, but winning is a cultural marathon race.

Happy reading therapy!

[1] Amazon’s introduction to “The Ultimate Resource 2

One thought on “Taking The Long View – Reading Therapy for Our Time

  1. randshurts says:

    Awesome, Anders!

    It truly is the best antidote to ‘griping about the ungodly mess our politicians constantly make of everything.’

    Thanks,

    Russ

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