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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: It's Better Than It Looks

I'm a natural pessimist and contrarian at heart. It's Better Than It Looks is a very optimistic book, using the long arch of history to provide evidence for optimism about the world we're in today. Easterbrook points out that compared to 50 years ago, the world has become a much better place, with pollution cleaned up in many areas (including the restoration of the ozone layer), world-wide poverty reduction, and world-wide reduction in inequality.

All of the above come with a large number of caveats of course. For instance, poverty reduction was mostly accomplished by reduction of poverty in China and India. Small comfort if you're an American working class (or even middle-class) voter. Inequality reduction was accomplished by reducing the difference between the middle class in the first world and the middle class in the developing countries. I'm sure that's going to make the Trump voters happy.

So it turns out that if you want to be an optimist, you have to take the global view of things instead of the national view. Of course, that ignores the problem that by making that focus, the elites of our society have left the majority of voters out, and then spend their time wondering why they're so angry and want to bring down the system.

The coverage of the climate problem was definitely tinted with rose colored glasses. It is conceivable that a technological breakthrough to solve our problems, and ongoing efficiency improvements have been dramatic over the last 50 years, but even Easterbrook had to acknowledge that the internal combustion engine improvements have largely gone towards bigger cars and more horsepower per liter, rather than the dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency that would have been possible.

Nevertheless, it's a good book to read if you're in the mood for a pick-me-up after browsing the news. Mildly recommended.

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