Matt Ridley on His New Book, The Rational Optimist, & Why "Ideas Having Sex" is a Very Great Thing Indeed


Best-selling science writer Matt Ridley's latest book is The Rational Optimist, which explains why the author is upbeat on the prospects of a planet and a civilization that seems to lurch from one pending political, economic, or environmental catastrophe to another.

Doomsayers have it all wrong, writes Ridley, who argues that prosperity and innovation have outraced even the visions of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill.

The phrase diminishing returns is such a cliché that few people give it much thought. Picking out the pecans from a bowl of salted nuts gives diminishing returns: The pieces of pecan in the bowl get rarer and smaller. The fingers keep finding almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, or even-God forbid-Brazil nuts. Gradually the bowl, like a moribund gold mine, ceases to yield decent returns of pecan.

Now imagine a bowl of nuts that has the opposite character. The more pecans you take, the larger and more numerous they grow. That is the human experience for the last 100,000 years. The global nut bowl has yielded ever more pecans.

Reason's own science correspondent Ronald Bailey talked with Ridley recently in Washington, D.C. They discuss Ridley's book, his hopes for the future, and the policies that can improve—or undermine— the prospects for our future.

Past Reason articles by, about, and featuring Matt Ridley.

If you like what you see, then sign up for Reason's first-ever cruise in February 2011, which features Ridley, Bailey, Matt Welch, Nick Gillespie, Jacob Sullum, and other guest speakers for a week of relaxation and conversation. For details go here.

Shot by Dan Hayes and Meredith Bragg, who also edited the segment.

Approximately 10 minutes.

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