Matt Ridley · 448 pages
Rating: (6.4K votes)
“Because it is a monopoly, government brings inefficiency and stagnation to most things it runs; government agencies pursue the inflation of their budgets rather than the service of their customers; pressure groups form an unholy alliance with agencies to extract more money from taxpayers for their members. Yet despite all this, most clever people still call for government to run more things and assume that if it did so, it would somehow be more perfect, more selfless, next time.”
“Random violence makes the news precisely because it is so rare, routine kindness does not make the news precisely because it is so commonplace. (104)”
“The Sun King had dinner each night alone. He chose from forty dishes, served on gold and silver plate. It took a staggering 498 people to prepare each meal. He was rich because he consumed the work of other people, mainly in the form of their services. He was rich because other people did things for him. At that time, the average French family would have prepared and consumed its own meals as well as paid tax to support his servants in the palace. So it is not hard to conclude that Louis XIV was rich because others were poor.
But what about today? Consider that you are an average person, say a woman of 35, living in, for the sake of argument, Paris and earning the median wage, with a working husband and two children. You are far from poor, but in relative terms, you are immeasurably poorer than Louis was. Where he was the richest of the rich in the world’s richest city, you have no servants, no palace, no carriage, no kingdom. As you toil home from work on the crowded Metro, stopping at the shop on the way to buy a ready meal for four, you might be thinking that Louis XIV’s dining arrangements were way beyond your reach. And yet consider this. The cornucopia that greets you as you enter the supermarket dwarfs anything that Louis XIV ever experienced (and it is probably less likely to contain salmonella). You can buy a fresh, frozen, tinned, smoked or pre-prepared meal made with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, prawns, scallops, eggs, potatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage, aubergine, kumquats, celeriac, okra, seven kinds of lettuce, cooked in olive, walnut, sunflower or peanut oil and flavoured with cilantro, turmeric, basil or rosemary … You may have no chefs, but you can decide on a whim to choose between scores of nearby bistros, or Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Indian restaurants, in each of which a team of skilled chefs is waiting to serve your family at less than an hour’s notice. Think of this: never before this generation has the average person been able to afford to have somebody else prepare his meals.
You employ no tailor, but you can browse the internet and instantly order from an almost infinite range of excellent, affordable clothes of cotton, silk, linen, wool and nylon made up for you in factories all over Asia. You have no carriage, but you can buy a ticket which will summon the services of a skilled pilot of a budget airline to fly you to one of hundreds of destinations that Louis never dreamed of seeing. You have no woodcutters to bring you logs for the fire, but the operators of gas rigs in Russia are clamouring to bring you clean central heating. You have no wick-trimming footman, but your light switch gives you the instant and brilliant produce of hardworking people at a grid of distant nuclear power stations. You have no runner to send messages, but even now a repairman is climbing a mobile-phone mast somewhere in the world to make sure it is working properly just in case you need to call that cell. You have no private apothecary, but your local pharmacy supplies you with the handiwork of many thousands of chemists, engineers and logistics experts. You have no government ministers, but diligent reporters are even now standing ready to tell you about a film star’s divorce if you will only switch to their channel or log on to their blogs.
My point is that you have far, far more than 498 servants at your immediate beck and call. Of course, unlike the Sun King’s servants, these people work for many other people too, but from your perspective what is the difference? That is the magic that exchange and specialisation have wrought for the human species.”
“At some point, human intelligence became collective and cumulative in a way that happened to no other animal.”
“It is strange to me that most people assume companies will be imperfect (as they are), but they assume that government agencies will be perfect, which they are not.”
“Think of this: never before this generation has the average person been able to afford to have somebody else prepare his meals. You”
“The cornucopia that greets you as you enter the supermarket dwarfs anything that Louis XIV ever experienced (and it is probably less likely to contain salmonella).”
“Then there appeared upon the earth a new kind of hominid, which refused to play by the rules. Without any changes in its body, and without any succession of species, it just kept changing its habits. For the first time its technology changed faster than its anatomy. This was an evolutionary novelty, and you are it. When”
“Humanity is experiencing an extraordinary burst of evolutionary change, driven by good old-fashioned Darwinian natural selection. But it is selection among ideas, not among genes.”
“The big firms that survive will do so by turning themselves into bottom-up evolvers.”
“It is my proposition that the human race has become a collective problem-solving machine and it solves problems by changing its ways. It”
“The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 coined the term ‘meme’ for a unit of cultural imitation.”
“Futurology always ends up telling you more about your own time than about the future.”
“As I write this, it is nine o’clock in the morning. In the two hours since I got out of bed I have showered in water heated by North Sea gas, shaved using an American razor running on electricity made from British coal, eaten a slice of bread made from French wheat, spread with New Zealand butter and Spanish marmalade, then brewed a cup of tea using leaves grown in Sri Lanka, dressed myself in clothes of Indian cotton and Australian wool, with shoes of Chinese leather and Malaysian rubber, and read a newspaper made from Finnish wood pulp and Chinese ink.”
“This is the diagnostic feature of modern life, the very definition of a high standard of living: diverse consumption, simplified production. Make one thing, use lots.”
“Not inventing, and not adopting new ideas, can itself be both dangerous and immoral.”
“Half of the biggest American companies of 1980 have now disappeared by take-over or bankruptcy; half of today’s biggest companies did not even exist in 1980. The same is not true of government monopolies: the Internal Revenue Service and the National Health Service will not die, however much incompetence they might display. Yet most anti-corporate activists have faith in the good will of the leviathans that can force you to do business with them, but are suspicious of the behemoths that have to beg for your business. I find that odd. Moreover,”
“I forecast that the twenty-first century will show a continuing expansion of catallaxy – Hayek’s word for spontaneous order created by exchange and specialisation.”
“The four horsemen of the human apocalypse, which cause the most premature and avoidable death in poor countries, are and will be for many years the same: hunger, dirty water, indoor smoke and malaria, which kill respectively about seven, three, three and two people per minute. If you want to do your fellow human beings good, spend your effort on combating those so that people can prosper, ready to meet climate challenges as they arrive. Economists estimate that a dollar spent on mitigating climate change brings ninety cents of benefits compared with $20 benefits per dollar spent on healthcare and $16 per dollar spent on hunger. Keeping climate at 1990 levels, assuming it could be done, would leave more than 90 per cent of human mortality causes untouched.”
“This is the diagnostic feature of modern life, the very definition of a high standard of living: diverse consumption, simplified production.”
“Some are worse off than they were just a few months or years before. But the vast majority of people are much better fed, much better sheltered, much better entertained, much better protected against disease and much more likely to live to old age than their ancestors have ever been. The availability of almost everything a person could want or need has been going rapidly upwards for 200 years and erratically upwards for 10,000 years before”
“They had stumbled on what Friedrich Hayek called the catallaxy: the ever-expanding possibility generated by a growing division of labour.”
“For barter to work, two individuals do not need to offer things of equal value. Trade is often unequal, but still benefits both sides.”
“Even allowing for the hundreds of millions who still live in abject poverty, disease and want, this generation of human beings has access to more calories, watts, lumen-hours, square feet, gigabytes, megahertz, light-years, nanometres, bushels per acre, miles per gallon, food miles, air miles, and of course dollars”
“Neanderthals had all of these: huge brains, probably complex languages, lots of technology. But they never burst out of their niche. It is my contention that in looking inside our heads, we would be looking in the wrong place to explain this extraordinary capacity for change in the species. It was not something that happened within a brain. It was some thing that happened between brains. It was a collective phenomenon. Look”
“Specialisation encouraged innovation, because it encouraged the investment of time in a tool-making tool. That saved time, and prosperity is simply time saved, which is proportional to the division of labour.”
“homini lupus’, said Plautus. ‘Man is a wolf to man.”
“Vernon Smith and his colleagues have long confirmed that markets in goods and services for immediate consumption – haircuts and hamburgers – work so well that it is hard to design them so they fail to deliver efficiency and innovation; while markets in assets are so automatically prone to bubbles and crashes that it is hard to design them so they work at all.”
“First, I need to convince you that human progress has, on balance, been a good thing, and that, despite the constant temptation to moan, the world is as good a place to live as it has ever been for the average human being – even now in a deep recession.”
“It is easier to wax elegiac for the life of a peasant when you do not have to use a long-drop toilet.”
“Feels like I'm in a play and I don't know all my lines.”
“The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.”
“Isn’t it refreshing to know that just because we’ve always been a certain way, it doesn’t mean we have to stay that way forever?”
“. . . and Vaclav's special new shoes with the lights on the heels and the Velcro everywhere, because in America no one, not even small children, has time to tie his own shoes, and everything must have flashing lights.”
“But it is not my mother's heart that is buried there. Instead, I think that it is yours.”
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