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.