Matt Ridley: The Coronavirus Pandemic Shows 'That There's No Monopoly on Wisdom'

The renowned science writer talks about pandemics, Chinese authoritarianism, Brexit, and why the freedom to innovate must not be quashed.


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Matt Ridley is one of the best-selling—and best-regarded—science writers on the planet. He wrote recently that in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, "We are about to find out how robust civilisation is" and "the hardships ahead will be like nothing we have ever known." Given that Ridley's best-known book is called The Rational Optimist, this is bracing stuff.

Ridley's next book, How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom, will be published in May. Nick Gillespie spoke with him from his home in northern England. They discussed why the coronavirus caught him by surprise, when he thinks the world economy will reopen, why Brexit is good for Europe, and whether he believes that sustained innovation and progress can take place in authoritarian countries such as China.

"I'm afraid it is necessary to be pretty draconian when you're in the middle of a pandemic," says Ridley, who nonetheless believes that limited government and individual liberty are essential bulwarks to creating a rich and prosperous society. "If you want to preserve freedom…you need to unleash the freedom to innovate, to solve the problem in good times."

Interview by Nick Gillespie; Edited by John Osterhoudt; Thumbnail by Lex Villena

Photo Credit: Ju Peng Xinhua News Agency/Newscom; Ju Peng Xinhua News Agency/Newscom.

NEXT: The Response To Coronavirus 'Is Central Planning on Steroids': Rep. Thomas Massie

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  1. Does he cover fictional hysteria because that’s what this KungFlu fear and nuking the US economy is founded on. Fiction that this disease requires any action beyond what we do for the seasonal Flu/Cold.

    1. I think this thing when it hits it hits harder than flu the problem is assessing who and how often it hits. What are the % of asymptomatic to mild symptoms who’ve had it? that question won’t be answered for years It seems to me we are years away from a vaccine, we need to get back to work and take precautions like social distancing and masks but this shelter in place lunacy needs to end yesterday.

      1. Johns Hopkins ABX Guide Coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)

        It might be that this disease is more severe than some diseases to some people. I hate to be harsh but so what? Additionally, there are biological things that take suffering to a whole new level.

        That flesh eating bacteria is pretty horrible way to go. It’s like leprosy. Your fucking limbs die and fall off, if the doctors didnt cut them off.

        This is hysteria because it is here and now. We bitch about Socialism destroying the individual because they want whats good for the masses. Destroying our economy and violating the constitutional rights of hundreds of millions of Americans because less than 50,000 Americans had it rough with KungFlu and had to go to the hospital…fuck that.

        The details will come out withint the next few years but common sense tells us that this quarantine Narrative is hysteria horseshit.

        If this bug is so bad why are nurses and doctors only wearing M95 masks and gloves and not level 1 biosuits?

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  2. “I’m afraid it is necessary to be pretty draconian when you’re in the middle of a pandemic,”

    Based on what studies or data?

    1. Oh sure, you want proof? What kinda monster are you? Think of the children !!!!

      1. Their really aren’t that many case studies that exist backing that claim up. What’s happening now is completely unprecedented and I hate hate how people are nonchalantly acting like this is something we just do. It’s not and never has been. The only time they can point to where something “like” this happened is the Spanish flu which was done on a local city by city level.

        1. These same people who are loathe to approve new drugs to even dieing patients that haven’t been lab tested and gone through years of red tape and bureaucratic hoops have completely embraced a strategy that’s never been tried based on theoretical models that we won’t have a control for. It’s madness.

        2. Or 1957, duh.

          1. Um no. In fact


            “Efforts to prevent morbidity and mortality associated with
            the pandemic focused on having supplies of vaccine.
            Measures were generally not taken to close schools, restrict
            travel, close borders, or recommend wearing masks.
            Quarantine was not considered to be an effective mitigation
            strategy and was ‘‘obviously useless because of the large
            number of travelers and the frequency of mild or inapparent cases.’’4(p36)
            Closing schools and limiting public gatherings were not
            recommended as strategies to mitigate the pandemic’s impact, except for administrative reasons due to high levels of

            1. Things were cancelled because people were too sick but how about we look at this:

              Economic Impact
              “Despite the large numbers of cases, the 1957 outbreak did
              not appear to have a significant impact on the U.S. economy. For example, a Congressional Budget Office estimate found that a pandemic the scale of which occurred in
              1957 would reduce real GDP by approximately 1% ‘‘but
              probably would not cause a recession and might not be
              distinguishable from the normal variation in economic
              activity.’’29(p2) As a comparison, industrial production in
              Canada was 1.2% below trend during the peak of the
              pandemic in October and at trend in November of 1957.30
              According to the Canadian Department of Finance,
              ‘‘[o]verall, the picture that emerges from the 1957 and 1968
              pandemics is of possible very small direct economic impacts
              and no indirect impacts.’’30(p16)

              amazing that.

        3. Florida just announced lockdown, plus Verizon lte has been out all morning.
          Nardz is getting frustrated

          1. Florida Man cannot be stopped.

          2. I guess you are gonna have to go physically check on your chickens rather than relying on that fancy new webcam.

    2. Pick one. I’m sure he can find one to back up his claim. At work to day I received a letter that states I am a necessary employee. So, I got that going for me.

      1. I too am essential. But I don’t know how much longer I’m going to employed because I doubt I’ll have any customers in business by the time this is over.

  3. Ridley’s a decent writer. You’ve sucked me in, Gillespie. I’ll give it a listen while I wait for this stock to cool.

  4. The Coronavirus Pandemic Shows ‘That There’s No Monopoly on Wisdom’

    No monopoly on stupid either, but government holds a majority stake.

    1. No monopoly on stupid, but we definitely have some cartelization going on in the commentariat.

  5. Quote: The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

    Our government officials would be wise to remember that.

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  7. I always enjoy reading and listening to Matt Ridley. I found his take on China replacing America as the world’s innovation leader interesting. I’d love to hear a Nick’s interview with geopolitical author Peter Zeihan, author of Disunited Nations and the Absent Superpower, who has a totally different opinion on the future of China, perhaps even returning something more resembling the 5 dynasties, 10 kingdom period.

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