Cheer Up!

17 reasons it's a great time to be alive

By Matt Ridley | as told to John Dyson (adapted from Reader's Digest U.K. edition) from Reader's Digest magazine | April 2012

Cheer Up!iStockphoto/Thinkstock
13. Storms are not getting worse

Not at all. While the climate warmed slightly last century, the incidence of hurricanes and cyclones fell. Since the 1920s, the global annual death rate from weather-related natural disasters (that is, the proportion of the world’s population killed rather than simply the overall number) has declined by a staggering 99 percent.

The killing power of hurricanes depends more on wealth than on wind speed. A big hurricane struck the well-prepared Yucatán in Mexico in 2007 and killed nobody. A similar storm struck impoverished Burma the next year and killed 200,000. The best defenses against disaster are prosperity and freedom.

14. Great ideas keep coming

The more we prosper, the more we can prosper. The more we invent, the more inventions become possible. The world of things is often subject to diminishing returns. The world of ideas is not: The ever-increasing exchange of ideas causes the ever-increasing rate of innovation in the modern world. There isn’t even a theoretical possibility of exhausting our supply of ideas, discoveries, and inventions.

15. We can solve all our problems

If you say the world will go on getting better, you are considered mad. If you say catastrophe is imminent, you may expect the Nobel Peace Prize. Bookshops groan with pessimism; airwaves are crammed with doom. I cannot recall a time when I was not being told by somebody that the world could survive only if it abandoned economic growth. But the world will not continue as it is. The human race has become a problem-solving machine: It solves those problems by changing its ways. The real danger comes from slowing change.

16. This depression is not depressing

The Great Depression of the 1930s was just a dip in the upward slope of human living standards. By 1939, even the worst-affected countries, America and Germany, were richer than they’d been in 1930. All sorts of new products and industries were born during the Depression. So growth will resume unless prevented by wrong policies. Someone, somewhere, is tweaking a piece of software, testing a new material, or transferring the gene that will make life easier or more fun.

17. Optimists are right

For 200 years, pessimists have had all the headlines—even though optimists have far more often been right. There is immense vested interest in pessimism. No charity ever raised money by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page writing a story about how disaster was now less likely. Pressure groups and their customers in the media search even the most cheerful statistics for glimmers of doom. Don’t be browbeaten—dare to be an optimist!

For more on Ridley, visit rationaloptimist.com.

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