Why rational optimism beats ephemeral happiness

Appropriately fitted out with a CIS tie covered in small light bulbs, Ridley asks how long you have to work today to earn an hour of reading light. On an average wage today, half a second of work will pay for an hour of light. In 1950, the average wage earner worked eight seconds to run a conventional filament lamp; in 1880, 15 seconds of work was needed for a kerosene lamp; and more than six hours of work for an hour of light by tallow candle in the 1800s. In 1750BC, your average ancient Babylonian needed to work more than 50 hours to get an hour of light from a sesame oil lamp. That 43,200-fold improvement, says Ridley, signifies “the currency that counts, your time”.

By any other measure, too, we are also better off. The world population has multiplied six times since 1800, yet on average we live twice as long and, in real terms, earn nine times more money.

Even in the space of 50 years, from 1955 to 2005, as Ridley writes in his book, “the average human being on Planet Earth earned nearly three times as much money (corrected for inflation), ate one-third more calories and could expect to live one-third longer. She was less likely to die as a result of war, murder, childbirth, accidents, tornadoes, flooding, famine, whooping cough, tuberculosis, malaria, diphtheria, typhus, typhoid, measles, smallpox, scurvy or polio. She was less likely, at any given age, to get cancer, heart disease or a stroke.

“She was more likely to be literate . . . to have finished school . . . own a telephone, a flush toilet, a refrigerator” and so on and so forth.

It should surprise no one that I agree with and support everything in this article. Doomsayers and cynics sacrifice their own happiness at the altar of an ideology which has been proven wrong at every turn. In a survey of human history, optimism is the only rational response.

H/T: Josh Kundert

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