The Rational Optimist

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston S. Churchill

I was recently watching a handful of interviews on Youtube, with Kevin O’Leary, most publicly recognized from the show Sharktank with CNN’s Erin Burnett and a couple with CBC’s Amanda Lang. The argument was centered on modern day capitalism and the successes and falls that is happening with the societies, particularly the US and other nations around the world.

Being an Economics Major from the University of Washington, I found it interesting in terms of the representation of some public thought and the ‘social morals’ the reporters presented pinned versus the Capitalistic advocacy of Kevin O’Leary. My bringing about of these interviews was not necessarily to say whose belief is more ‘correct’ then others of the such but rather an wider perspective.

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley brings the reader through time on how prosperity has evolved throughout the course of mankind. The book also happened to be on Mark Zuckerberg’s 2015 book recommendations during his “Year of Reading”. There are 2 lessons that strikeout the most to me which I believe are lessons and concepts that every person should understand.

The first lesson is the focus on ‘current knowledge’. That every theory and estimation is based on what we know today. However humanity and our technology is continuously evolving and at a rate that we simply cannot predict with any certainty. There is a focus in the book that though negatives are occurring in the world, that we should remain optimistic in the possibilities of humanity, that that is the most rational thing to do. I love referencing Manoj Bhargava, the founder of 5-hour energy, from a speech he did at a convention that goes something like: “the only things that these consultants and experts know is what was done before, not what is going to happen”.

The second lesson is the reiteration that Economics is not a zero sum game. That the advances we take are a Win-Win for all sides involved in compared to where we were at. He references that though many rural farmers had a choice to continue their way of life as it was, they chose to go to work in the poor conditions of the steel mills and such because of the opportunity that was present.

I feel our mindset socially is formed to such that we always think there is a winner and a loser and the concept of a zero sum game is so foreign and lost to many. Yes, there are those much more well off then others however we cannot lose sight of the gains that the not so well have had as well. Life is better for all however it is hard to see that when you compare. Comedian CK Louis says it best: “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”


  1. Rational Optimist – Matt Ridley
  2. Burnett & Oleary
  3. Lang & Oleary Part 1
  4. Lang & Oleary Part 2
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