6 Reasons We Don’t Know How Good We Have It

“6 Reasons We Don’t Know How Good We Have It” is a new article by Monica Lucas and Matthew La Corte in the libertarian magazine The Freeman, with an interesting focus on the reasons why people literally shy away from optimism. I experienced this myself at the weekend, falling into a casual chat with a beardie old boy at a local event. ‘Wouldn’t like to be young again, there’s no jobs…’ he said. I responded in a mild and friendly tone that… ‘Oh, I don’t know… the unemployment rate’s dropping like a stone, even for the youth it’s dropping…’. At which he literally bodily shied away, and suddenly saw someone on the other side of the crowd he urgently needed to talk to. Odd, how even a mild expression of optimism effects some people. It was Stoke-on-Trent, though, I guess — a city well known for its world-class moaning abilities. Anyway, the article asks, when we are now experiencing an era of unprecedented freedom and prosperity…

“Why is our society paralyzed by pessimism? Here are six possible explanations…”

One of the reasons they give is ‘hard-wiring’ of our psychology. This also has to do with the palaeolithic mindset we’re inherited from our 200,000+ years spent as hunter-gatherers, a world in which harvested resources were finite. So if someone else gets more than you, they’re depriving you of a slice of a finite pie. That mindset should have been abandoned when trade and applied human ingenuity came along, making ‘the pie’ infinitely expandable. But it wasn’t. Instead, that ancient mindset fed into militarised societies and economic delusions. This was very ably discussed in a recent episode of the excellent EconTalk podcast, in which Russ Roberts of Stanford University talked with James Otteson of Wake Forest University. They give a great example during the discussion (at 34 minutes in) regarding a camping trip. The old palaeolithic mindset feels natural and does work, when camping with friends or bringing up children in families. But have the same mindset run human activity on a larger scale, especially a complex trading nation, and disaster will surely follow.

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