Author Matt Ridley “lights up” the room with optimism

By on October 19, 2018

By Maggie Vancampen —

Despite the power outage that affected campus, Wednesday, Oct. 10, author Matt Ridley delivered a presentation titled “Optimism and Innovation” to an audience of about 50 in the College of Business.

Ridley was the second presenter of the Center for Free Enterprise’s fall speaker series, and he said the world isn’t as bad as it seems.

“We could have had a headline in the newspaper this morning: ‘137,000 people lifted out of poverty yesterday.’ It would have been true the day before. We never talk about this.” Ridley said.

Ridley said while upsetting events often happen in an instant, happy stories take time to develop.

“Good news is gradual while bad news is sudden,” he said.

Ridley used the feeling of happiness as an example.

“It used to be thought that the richer people got, the less happier they got,” Ridley said.

He said the study that spurred this belief was based on a bad sample. When a larger sample size was interviewed about their finances and happiness levels, the results pointed to an increase in happiness when wealth was also increased.

“Compared to our ancestors, we live like kings,” Ridley said.

He said inequality between countries is going down faster than we expect, especially compared to the financial crisis. Countries previously thought of as poverty-stricken are seeing a rising economy, while developed countries are leveling themselves.

“We have a tendency to redefine things as problematic the less problems there are,” Ridley said. He said a Harvard professor named Daniel Gilbert wrote an article about how volunteers were asked to press the button when they see a blue dot.

As the blue dot became rarer, the volunteers started to press the button on purple dots too. They were expanding their definition of the color blue. This then brought up an ethical issue of how to redefine problems. To put it simply: when there are fewer problems, humans find more to complain about.

So why is our happiness and economic prosperity slowly becoming bigger and better? Innovation.

Ridley said technology is improving humans’ happiness and economic prosperity across the globe.

“It is innovation that is the source for all our prosperity. Every technology you can think of is a combination of other technologies,” Ridley said.

The Center for Free Enterprise’s next presentation will be titled “Is Big Tech Evil?: What do the Economics Say?” by George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen.

Photo by Maggie Vancampen / The Louisville Cardinal

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