Monday, June 14, 2010

William Easterley reviews Matt Ridley's new book

A High-Five for the Invisible Hand. Choice quote:
"[N]atural scientists have remarkably low standards for reasoned argument when they discuss social science, as compared with the rigor they bring to their home fields."
Parting remark:
"So read “The Rational Optimist” for its fascinating history of trade and innovation. But also ponder whether the debate over markets can move forward while it remains a purely religious war. Those willing to confront honestly all the doubts about the “free market” might then actually be persuasive in arguing that it is the worst system humans have ever tried — except for all the others."
P.S. See also the discussion in Aid Watch and George Monbiot's review The Man Who Wants to Northern Rock the Planet.
Discussion in Economist's View


Frank S. Robinson said...

William Easterly’s review of Matt Ridley’s book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves complains that his argument on the importance of exchange and free markets doesn’t explain everything about the human situation. Well, of course it doesn’t, because life is complex (which is actually part of Ridley’s argument). But that complexity doesn’t justify the review’s frankly cavalier treatment of what Ridley does have to say about one truly crucial aspect of the human story – and it's something we really need to hear just now.

Professor Easterly seems to pine for a different book than Ridley’s, one that bravely takes on the entirety of the pessimist catechism (and explains its seductiveness). In fact, there is just such a book: mine, The Case for Rational Optimism, published by Transaction at Rutgers University (2009). It addresses not only such topics as war, the environment, the economy, technology, etc., but also the philosophical and psychological aspects of optimism versus pessimism. See

gaddeswarup said...

Professor Robinson,
Thanks for the link. I agree that William Easterley is somewhat cavalier in his review but from my reading of Ridley's previous books, Ridley's comments outside his scientific expositions (like the later parts of "The origins of Virtue") do not inspire too much confidence. Again thanks for the link and I will look up your books when I get a chance.