Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch Makes the Case for Optimism in Commentary


Writing in a Commentary symposium on whether one should be optimistic or pessimistic about the future, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch doubles down on positivity. Excerpt:

The year I was born, the nonviolence champion Martin Luther King Jr?. was slain by an assassin's bullet, touching off race riots in more than 100 American cities that left 46 people dead and a trail of physical destruction still visible to the naked eye. It was the deadliest year for the United States in the Vietnam War, with more than twice as many servicemen dying than have succumbed, combined, in every U.S. military action since. Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, Americans elected a future crook as president, and most right-thinking people were convinced by Paul Ehrlich's book, The Population Bomb?, that "hundreds of millions of people" would soon "starve to death," particularly in India.        

The year I turned 21, elite anxieties had moved on to Japan's imminent takeover of the U.S. economy. Entire American cities (including New York City) had been given up as lost causes, Nelson Mandela? was still a prisoner in apartheid South Africa, and then all at once the world as we thought we knew it fell on its head. As predicted by no one, imperial Communism collapsed largely without a shot, proxy superpower wars all over the globe gave way to fragile but lasting peace, and a decade of unparalleled prosperity and freedom tumbled happily forth. […]

It requires a surplus of myopic self-regard to gaze upon this undeniable and thrilling human advancement and proclaim a wasteland of impending decline, but we Americans have always had a difficult time distinguishing between our market share of global responsibility and the overall health of the world.

Read the whole thing here.


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  1. I’m cautiously optimistic. 1870 to 1910 was forty years of similarly amazing advancement, but the next 40 years after that had its problems.

      1. 1910-1945 was a freak era that witnessed the collapse of three East European empires that held together, barely, a region characterized by chronic ethnic violence and civil strife. The vacuum left by the disappearance of the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov empires and the horrific regimes that filled it caused about 50 million people to be slaughtered in that period.

        Not going to happen again in this century, as there aren’t any tottering old multi-ethnic empires left, anywhere.

        1. Not going to happen again in this century, as there aren’t any tottering old multi-ethnic empires left, anywhere.

          Actually, “tottering old multi-ethnic empire” is a pretty good description of the US.

          1. I would say the EU, but yeah.

  2. Off-topic: am I the only one who saw a post from Shikha about the Alabama immigration laws called, “The New Jim Crow”? Just wondering.

    1. I saw it too, then it disappeared.

      1. Probably for the best. A title like that wasn’t bound to inspire the best in the commentariat or the trollentariat.

        1. We could use a little excitement around here right now, actually.

        2. I remember that thread. It was the one that slappy didn’t deny being a sister/sheep fucking racist piece of human garbage.

          Ah, good times.

          1. Given that it’s pretty clear I’m not the only one posting under this handle, perhaps you were the one acknowledging those things on my behalf? I suspect a look at the IP logs would be enlightening…

            1. Sooo, you still don’t deny these charges?

              1. Deny? He embraces them!

    2. I saw it

    3. I didn’t see it, but it fits the profile.

  3. The year I was born, the nonviolence champion Martin Luther King Jr?. was slain by an assassin’s bullet…

    Ha! Welch just unwittingly exposed his age (the old fart). And I hope we’re not resting our optimism on the fact everyone tweets now, because that’s the very representation of the guiding hand of America. Twitter = American influence.

    1. Ha! Welch just unwittingly exposed his age (the old fart).

      I was struck by the idea that although Matt and I will always be conjoined as members of the same “generation” (Gen X or Generation Jones), I know he doesn’t remember any of the three biggest national events of my childhood that I will never forget- and I’m only 4 yrs older than he is.

      I was almost 5 yrs old when my father took me out in the backyard on the evening of July 20, 1969.

      I was 8 when the first and last “hero” I ever had died on New Years Eve in 1972.

      Just after my 9th birthday, the President went on TV and said, “I am not a crook”- and I knew he was lying…

      1. You just unwittingly revealed you’re (possibly) a yinzer.

        1. Takes one to know one.

          1. Sid didn’t return on 11/11/11. You’re so dumb for thinking he would.

  4. As predicted by no one Ronald Reagan, imperial Communism collapsed largely without a shot, proxy superpower wars all over the globe gave way to fragile but lasting peace, and a decade of unparalleled prosperity and freedom tumbled happily forth.

    Sorry, Matt, it didn’t just happen. Whatever you think of the man, and while he certainly didn’t act alone, he had a personal hand in this. Surely you are old enough to remember how the Cold War was going to last forever? Before him. Never heard of the Presidential Decision Directive 32 which the Soviets called “economic war”?

    1. Science H. Logic, Matt, I just added up your timelines. You turned 21 in 1989 and think “no one” had predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union?

      From Wiki:
      Together with the United Kingdom’s prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Reagan denounced the Soviet Union in ideological terms.[166] In a famous address on June 8, 1982 to the British Parliament in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster, Reagan said, “the forward march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history.”[167][168] On March 3, 1983, he predicted that communism would collapse, stating, “Communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.”[169] In a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983, Reagan called the Soviet Union “an evil empire”.

    2. If we’re getting into predictions, then a certain Austrian economist, when not busy with his great responsibilities as part of the “Axis of Gambol Lockdown,” beat Reagan by about 60 years. Still, mainstream Sovietology was mostly ignorant to the very end.….._von_Mises

  5. I hope Matt’s right, but Mark Steyn’s case for pessimism seems pretty persuasive.

    1. It is a pitiful reflection upon the Republic in twilight that, when it comes to the transnational mush drooled by the leader of the free world or the conspiracist ramblings of a pseudo-Bedouin terrorist drag queen presiding over a one-man psycho-cult basket case, it’s more or less a toss-up as to which of them was the more unreal.

      Because of his ability to write sentences like the one above, I try and read everything Steyn writes. No one can turn a phrase like he can.

    2. If the IMF is right, in five years’ time, the preeminent economic power on the planet will be a one-party state with a Communist Politburo and a largely peasant population, no genuine market, no human rights, no property rights, no rule of law, no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom of association.

      China has no genuine market?

      I guess Mark Steyn has never tried to start a business in the US.

      10$ says I can buy unpasteurized milk in any store that sells milk in China….they may even sell light bulbs there.

      Also i am pretty sure if my boss sucks and does not pay me enough i can go down the street and find a different one who will pay me more in China…in the US i would simply be unemployed.

      Maybe by genuine market he means getting a stamp of approval from the government….or that giant companies can stomp out small guys so all they do is sell labels like Coke and Pepsi rather then compete on product. China does not have the “label” competition created by regulatory capture…therefor it is not genuine.

  6. imperial Communism

    Most awesome phrase of the week and it is only Monday.

    Ideologically impossible but factually as real as a stone on the ground.

  7. For those of us who truly believe in the virtues of responsibility and competition, and who have an enduring faith in the irresistible lure of freedom, it is the very best of times to be alive.

    Plus we are virtually guaranteed to get a shity new president…

    Strangely I am looking forward to that….if the choice is keeping the old shity president and getting a new shity president I think I will always prefer the new one.

    Can cynicism be optimistic?

    If not then I forever look forward with face in palm to a world in which it can.

  8. Things are always going to be OK until they’re not going to be OK; every prediction of doom is wrong until the last one.

    Moorish Iberia lasted twice as long as the United States has, and a few centuries later has been all but forgotten.

  9. Any objective review of the evidence will support the optimistic case. In order of descending importance:
    1. An era of unprecedentedly low conflict around the world due mainly to the end of the Cold War and the destruction of nearly all of the US and former Soviet stockpiles of nuclear weapons that, once upon a time, were pointed at Moscow and New York with an eye toward mutual assured destruction of nearly 600m people.

    2. The end of chronic hunger, not to say famine, that claimed hundreds of millions of Asian lives thanks to private property, agricultural reform, capital formation and Norman Borlaug’s green revolution applied to China and India.

    3. An astonishing decline in violent crime in the US during the last 25 years, a decline that has continued despite the recession, thanks to (per James Q Wilson) better policing, more incarceration of violent criminals, reduction in the use of crack, and reduced exposure to lead in the environment.

    4. An astonishing increase in US energy reserves and energy production in the last 5 years, to the point where the US has already surpassed Russia as the #1 natural gas producer in the world, with the prospect of real energy independence in the next few years thanks to unconventional natural gas and improved drilling techniques.

    5. An astonishing reversal of autocracy and nightmare regimes around the world during the last 30 years, from Latin America to Eastern Europe to Asia and now, the Middle East.

    6. An extraordinary increase in “emerging market” prosperity, comfort and decent living standards, to the point where smart investors are now turning their sights toward that basket case of basket cases, Africa, as the next prospect for a huge upsurge in prosperity and living standards for hundreds of millions.

  10. Steyn like most pundits is missing the biggest story of the decade: America’s now on the brink of real energy independence, and the power pendulum is already swinging back toward the US.…..erica.html…..32011.html

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