Relax, be happy?

Johan Norberg’s just landed here.

[amazon_image id=”1780749503″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future[/amazon_image]

It’s in the same spirit as Charles Kenny’s wonderful , or Steven Pinker’s T. There are ten chapters, each covering an aspect of modern life that is better than in the past: food, sanitation, violence, literacy, poverty etc. Each chapter sets out data from various official sources on how much things have improved and can continue to do so. Although there are a few fellow travellers in cheerfulness, this is a contrarian literature. Apart from the Olympic-league pessimists like Robert Gordon () and other secular stagnationists, there is a striking division between what you might describe as a lot of good news on the material basis of society and gloom on the political/cultural superstructure. It’s hard to feel cheerful when there’s Brexit, an eruption of racist attacks on the streets, Trump, Syria, attacks by ISIS, etc etc.

How you weigh the rational optimism about progress and the emotional pessimism about all that’s going wrong. In Joel Mokyr’s , which I’ve just finished, he underlines the sense of society progressing as being important for delivering it. It also reminds me of Paul Krugman’s very nice old paper, History versus Expectations, about getting the balance right between the past and the future.


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