Why the Stock Exchange Matters

As I gleefully communicated this week to my Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and even clients and professional associates via private email distribution, I enjoyed one of the great blessings of my life this week in participating in the ringing of the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange.
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The specific business interest and portfolio strategy that brought me there is not important for purposes of this blog, nor would it be prudent to delve into investment matters on this public blog (a sign-up is available for my privately distributed weekly commentary on the home page of this site). What I do want to address, though, is just why this event would be so significant to me, and why the stock exchange matters.

In a literal sense, the stock exchange as defined by the actual floor brokerage activity going on in the physical building at the corner of Wall and Broad actually doesn’t matter a whole lot any more. There are still some floor brokers there but the entire U.S. equity market could function without those literal activities. The exchange almost seems like a studio for CNBC now, and that is fine by me (I watch CNBC all day, every day). Of course, the activities of trading and market-making and listing securities (etc.) matters a great deal, but massive technological advances have enabled that business to mature beyond our wildest dreams. Execution prices are better than ever. Markets are more liquid than ever. Transparency is easier to come by than ever. And countless traders and market-makers are still employed all over the world.

So why does the actual New York Stock Exchange matter, then? Why was this a milestone event for me as a financial professional? And why is the corner of Wall and Broad important to Americans?

Just as the term “Wall Street” has long been a catch-all phrase for “capital markets” in our country, so is the “stock exchange” a catch-all phrase for the making of markets – the facilitation of the buying and selling of financial securities – and with that, the democratization of financial investment. There are actually few things MORE important to average Americans, whether we are able to realize that on a daily basis or not.

I am sensitive to the reasons many find the demonization of Wall Street so tempting, and I am certainly aware of some of the transgressions that have originated in the halls of Wall Street over the years. I do not offer a Gordon Gekko defense for the merits of greed (though I recommend a vigorous defense of the virtue of the profit motive re-enter American consciousness, and quick). Stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason sometimes, and the fact that many Americans see the white collar world of finance as a den of iniquity, greed, hubris, and callousness is most unfortunate (and only in a minority of cases fair).

But I need to return to this concept of the democratization of investment finance. America has been the city on a hill to the world when it comes to finance for over a century. Our national free enterprise system has lent itself to the greatest innovations and advancements the world has ever seen, and those innovations and advancements have produced a lot of wealth. Certain countries have done quite well at generating wealth for their select oligarchs and power-holders, but the United States has seen its innovations, improvements, pursuits of profit, new technologies, and business feats create wealth for the MASSES. Stock option plans have made millionaires out of former pizza delivery drivers. Mutual funds and 401k plans have provided for the retirement savings of millions and millions of blue collar workers, teachers, municipal employees, and administrators. Concentrated stock positions have enabled loyal employees to retire with income far greater than they ever earned in their working lives – all from the publicly traded security of their employing company. Hundreds of billions of dollars of funds in the non-profit sector – foundations, endowments, and charitable trusts – have funded great acts of charity and compassion, all from the fruit of their capital markets trees. Ours is a nation of democratized investment access – from the pension funds millions of employees live off of (or will live off of), to the individual savings people of all incomes and net worths have accumulated. This is a celebration of the American way – a victory of the American experiment – and it is made possible by the “stock exchange” – the hub of market-making and trading that drive American financial markets.

Is this a simplistic summary of the nature of finance in our country? Sure. I’m not intending to do a deep dive here. I am, though, offering an indisputable thesis for how the oft-demonized world of Wall Street has improved the quality of life for so many in our society. I hope they keep that building at Wall and Broad there forever, and I hope I get to go back again, even if by the time I get there they are just running a souvenir shop. The history of that building and its iconic place in our society is powerful – more powerful than most could be expected to understand. This week I not only got to better understand it; I got to appreciate it at the deepest level possible. And this investment manager is permanently grateful not just for my experience ringing the bell this week, but for over a century’s worth of financial evolution that this glorious place has facilitated – to the betterment of all in our society.

(And if you are curious, I do not believe it will ever be just a souvenir shop; there is a glory in that building that will remain one way or another for decades to come – I am certain of it. And is it ever a gorgeous, gorgeous building).

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Principles of “Values” Investing

The following represents the outline of a speech given to the Acton Institute’s university symposium, held each June in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The symposium features nearly 1,000 people from dozens of countries around the globe who come together to advance their understanding of liberty economics within the context of a Biblical anthropology and worldview. I have been honored to be a faculty member of the university for several years now and focused my talk this year on the controversial subject of “values” investing (note that there is nothing in this piece and was nothing in my talk which remotely constituted “investment advice”; the emphasis here is exclusively on an ethic of investing and the worldview considerations a thoughtful person of faith may want to have in engaging the process)

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The assigned topic is to address the moral implications of investing

In Christendom, “moral values” mutual funds have had a certain appeal to them (though that has mostly gone away after a decade of woeful performance)

Outside Christendom, “Socially responsible investing” has become a $3 trillion dollar industry if you believe industry data and market metrics (12% of the $25tn of global investable assets)

* Driven far more by marketers than ideologues

The commitment at the Acton Institute is to a free and virtuous society, and my speech needs to address whether or not our freedom to pursue optimal investment returns in our portfolios is in tension with our desire for a virtuous society.

If it is, where, and what do we do about it?

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My Eleven Takeaways on the Subject of ‘Values’ Investing

a – Any form of investing that fails to aspire to the value of profit-making is not investing at all, and certainly not within any kind of Biblical value system. “Growth” is not merely an economic term; it is the story of creation and God’s plan for His creation always and forever

b – Any form of investing that fails to acknowledge man’s dominion over creation is not within the Biblical value system; a better way to say this is that to explicitly deny man’s dominion over creation in our investing approach is highly problematic

c – To pursue something called “socially responsible” investing means that there must be agreement as to what is socially responsible. How could the plethora of “strategies” offering this all be operating within the exact same framework?

* State-subsidized unprofitable “green” investing may be “virtuous” to some; it is antithetical to virtue for others
* If one wants to associate their investments with a certain ethical image or behavior trend I would recommend avoiding BOTH a filter system rooted in Baptistic fundamentalism AND one rooted in secular environmentalism

d – Worry as much about the SYSTEM of investing as the OBJECT of investing. A faulty system rooted in any number of worldview fallacies which ends up owning a company that has a morally defensible platform is worse to me than a system that is solid and coherent and Biblically intelligent which ends up owning a stock that is questionable

* Greater Fool theory
* Momentum scams
* Astrological schemes

(More on legitimate systems below)

e – Any standard or value imposed upon the investment process that requires the companies or people involved in running the companies to be functionally outside of the fallen world is both undesirable and impossible

* If a company happens to make a super Godly widget and has an employee benefits package that investor A thinks is really ethical, how could an investor know what their vendors, banking partners, and counter-parties are doing? One way or the other, EVERY investor in ANY company is touching something that has a policy we may not like
* Tribalism is no virtue, for an investor or otherwise

f – Any approach to investing that gives assent to the pagan idea that everything in life is a series of random and chaotic events with no sense of created order or rational cause and effect is not within any kind of Biblical value system (and is a denial of the Doctrine of Creation)

* God not only created the world but created it to be governed by laws. He created it with a fair amount of chaos but it is a chaos He controls and a chaos that stems from controlled things within the laws of physics, mathematics, logic, and economics. THIS IS NOT TO SAY that investing can EVER be purely predictable and easy; there is chaos and disorder within investing; but our decisions carry consequences and no part of the investment process is immune from the laws of nature
* I also wouldn’t commend any system of investing that presupposes that the future will always look like the past. Investing competence and worldview seriousness would require something beyond fideism, and would fundamentally deal with changes in market environments, technologies, interest rates, efficiencies, and macro circumstances

g – Biblical teachings on freedom of conscience and obligations under Romans 14 to avoid actions done in doubt apply to investing just as they do to other human action. Smoking is a matter of conscience, and so is investing in companies that make cigarettes. This principle means some may buy a tobacco stock, and some may not

h – Where individual companies make a product or service that is outside of the realm of possibility of good faith or Christian conscience, I don’t have an absolute standard to apply to ownership of that stock – just a word of Proverbial wisdom to avoid it. Not owning a particular stock should never make or break a particular investment outcome in a properly diversified portfolio, so just pass on it

i – Any system of investing which seeks to strike risk from the process or claims to be able to do so ought to be shunned as contrary to basic reason and contrary to the intention of Biblical investment, which is the process of profiting from prudent risk-taking

j – The great “value” of investing is in the ability to participate in the growth of profitable enterprises, the same enterprises that innovate, improve the quality of human life, employ thousands upon thousands of people, create legitimately new wealth, and produce competition with other businesses which drives prices down and the quality of product up. The “value” of investing starts with the “value” of markets, and no one who fails to appreciate the intrinsic value of markets (created by a sovereign God) will ever find a worldview of investing which makes sense or captures the beauty of for-profit investing

k – The investor who seeks an optimal return is to be commended, not condemned. The investor who is epistemologically self-conscious of his worldview in investing is to be doubly commended

Worldview recap: God as creator who wants to see growth and profit; humans as image-bearers who have dominion; God as sovereign; laws of logic and nature and economics as God-created; matters of conscience as ethical and Scripture-bound; the merit of Proverbial wisdom in the gray areas; the intrinsic value of markets in the created order – these things are all part of the investment process whether we are aware of them or not, and when we are aware I believe it to be doubly honorable

Closing sentiment:
Various forms of real processes with empirically testable propositions can be considered and decisions can be made on investment merits with which there will be freedom to disagree. But developing a SYSTEM of investing in the FREE and VIRTUOUS society must seek the freedoms and profits of markets and be rooted in the virtues of the Biblical Worldview

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Janet Yellen’s Debut and the Cause of Low Interest Rates

From Janet Yellen’s first Congressional testimony as the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve:

“The fundamental reason we have low interest rates is because there is a glut of savings relative to the demand for those savings.”

Really? Would you like to test that theory? Pull off the easy monetary policy – the bond buying – the zero interest rate Fed Funds policy – and let’s see where the “natural” rate goes … The idea that the Fed should manipulate the basic interest rate to generate a desired economic result is not an economic policy I agree with, but it is an acceptable idea in modern economics. Calling it that is at least honest (meaning, calling it the controlling of rates to generate a desired outcome). But saying that the rate is low because those gosh-darn savers are holding on to too much money is fundamentally dishonest, and the extremely bright Ms. Yellen knows it.

The reality is that the economy is weak enough that we would have a below average interest rate if it were not being held down via excessive accommodation. But it wouldn’t be this low, and the chairman knows it. Of course the Fed agrees with me here, because otherwise, why would they be doing it?

What the hangover result will be from this period of monetary accommodation is not something I can predict. I repudiate the folks who claim with confident hubris, despite a couple generations of being embarrassingly wrong, that hyper-inflation will be the result. But I find it incontestable that severe malinvestment is a highly likely outcome from this regime of monetary policy. Incontestable. Regardless, the driver behind low rates (at least rates this low) is not “excess savings unable to find investment demand”. Differing economic belief systems are one thing. Fundamental honesty is another.

The Wolf of Wall Street Reviewed

I read Jordan Belfort’s book the first week that it came out five or so years ago. I knew immediately that the talk of it turning into a movie would happen, for the book itself read like it was written to be put on the screen. Here was a guy convicted in one of the largest white collar crime cases in history, and a 300-page book barely made mention of what he did for a living (legally or illegally). The book read from cover to cover about the crazy shenanigans they did when they WEREN’T working, which apparently would have been most of the time – from sexual exploits to drug and alcohol binges, etc. No one writes a book about their business success and redemption from a life of white collar crime without mentioning barely a thing about their business or white collar crime unless they are intending for someone to read it, or in this case see it, via the Martin Scorsese/Leonardo Dicaprio highly-hyped film rendition of The Wolf of Wall Street.

I saw the movie the day after it came out, primarily because it came out on Christmas Day. I have seen Wall Street over 20 times and I am probably getting close to that same count with Wall Street 2, and I doubt you could name a movie that indirectly covers New York finance in its narrative that I have not seen, often multiple times. These range from the mediocre (Arbitrage comes to mind) to the remarkable (Margin Call is one of my all-time faves). Scorsese had me on this one from the day the book came out.

I cannot begin my review and commentary without one very important caveat: I doubt that even 5% of you should or will want to see this movie. The aforementioned sexual exploits of the characters involved are not covered in regular graphic Hollywood style “R” movie fashion; it is over-the-top, gratuitous, close-your-eyes-constantly, disgusting stuff. I mean, bad. Fortunately for me that stuff entertains me about as much as watching the paint dry, and I was well-prepared for the odd direction Scorsese set out for here. So for those of you prepared for the offense you will walk into and with eyelids that have quick reflexes, you may or may not want to see the movie. Regardless, I’d like you to read the commentary below … But just take this caveat and warning seriously: This is a graphic movie, and then it goes five steps beyond that.

I have to be careful in reviewing the movie to delineate my thoughts on the film itself from the story the film was capturing. In real life, I think Jordan Belfort is an immensely talented dirtbag, and that is to say he is not that big of a deal. The world is full of talents, and it is full of dirtbags, and it is full of people who combine both flavors. I find the idea that the Feds would offer a plea to a guy they had so dead-to-right, a plea that ended up meaning a mere 22 months in prison just for him to help them bring down a bunch of low level inferiors to himself, bizarre. I also don’t believe it. There is something about this that will never make sense to me. But yes, Jordan Belfort ran a complete sham of a company for years, eluding regulators time and time again, and finally got caught with irrefutable evidence of fraud and conspiracy, and he ended up doing far less prison time than most television burglars do. In exchange, the Feds got corroboration needed to arrest a few other low level dirtbags with no ties to organized crime or any other activity involving sophistication greater than Lincoln Logs. This case makes no sense to anyone who has studied it. But with that said, Jordan Belfort is a fun study in the science of sociopaths, and a textbook sociopath this man surely is. He is a gifted orator, has a tenacity level that absolutely guarantees success, and very likely would have been a high achiever in any field he pursued. This is not because of a rare and special intellect – rather, it is because of a rare and special charisma/tenacity. These things intrigue me, and I suppose like a guy turning his neck at a freeway accident, it particularly intrigues me when the charismatic tenacious talent is a morally bankrupt sociopath. I should work on that.

But here’s the thing … Scorsese’s movie is not a deep narrative about the pathology of Jordan Belfort. It is not a financial crime thriller. It is not a tragic tale of one who had it all and blew it with hubris and immaturity. It is not a dive into the saga of good vs. evil. Indeed, it is a story without a story. And that may be the most frustrating thing about it to me …

I actually do not agree with some of the criticism that my fellow capitalistic friends have offered – that the movie is depicting all capitalists as greedy moral degenerates. The movie portrays these “capitalists” that way, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that the movie is attempting to paint with any broader a brush than that. You would think that I would have a hyper-sensitivity here, being engaged in the business of providing investment advice to wealthy people for a living. In fact, I think it is amusing when Hollywood offers cartoonish portrayals of the bottom 10% of our business. Oliver Stone’s depiction of all investment bankers as being a certain way in 1987 was not to be taken seriously then, and Scorsese certainly couldn’t succeed in painting a picture of all investment advisors of being a certain way now (not to pop anyone’s balloon, but you will not find a floor of people anywhere dialing for dollars any more, let alone doing so to pitch a “hot stock”; that was a relic of yesteryear, and while it makes for good cinema, the reality that those giving financial advice now are primarily family guys – and girls – in offices, not cubicles, totally devoid of sales techniques and stock trading – would probably bore people to tears).

The Jordan Belfort saga is not an indictment of capitalism, and frankly, it is not exactly a story of innocent senior citizens being duped by degenerate pump-and-dumpers either (though close). It would have been fun for Scorsese to evaluate the pathology of both the seller of these penny stock shams AND the buyer (were these buyers all totally innocent? If you believe that, you may be a person who would be wise to avoid all telemarketers). But Scorsese didn’t use the movie to portray the human tragedy of someone blowing their life savings on a penny stock transaction, and he didn’t use the movie to dig into the indictment of society intrinsic to ALL pursuits of ill-gotten gains … Rather, he left the crimes of the story – the “business” of the movie, well, out of the movie. In fact, there were two or three occasions where DiCaprio (playing narrator to the movie) started to talk about the nature of what they did, and then just said, “oh geez – you guys don’t care” (talking to the theater audience). And he was probably right – why make a movie about a business crime when you can make a movie about an orgy, which is what they opted to do.

If there was any moral to the narrative I suppose it could be the portrayal of what drug abuse did (and does) to people, but even then there wasn’t a clean hit. Some will argue that the movie glamorizes the drug use, but I would strongly disagree with that criticism. The movie portrays it in all its glamour , yes, and that is certainly part of the lifeline of the drug user turned addict. To deny that there is a glamour and excitement to that culture is dishonest or naive. But the movie does not fail to show the end of this story, either. The ugliness of Belfort’s drug abuse is on big screen display, and Scorsese does a good job tying in the excess of the drug use to the excess of everything else in these people’s pathetic journey.

The positives of the film are as follows: It is scored MARVELOUSLY, and I mean that in the most superlative sense possible. The song selections are fantastic and the timing of their usage is brilliant throughout the movie. The other positive is Leonardo Dicaprio, who really is Oscar-worthy in this portrayal. I would not take away from either of these sincere compliments to the movie in what I am about to say.

But the negative is this: The film totally failed to forge an identity. I would have been in total disagreement with the filmmakers if they attempted to infiltrate some silly left-wing agenda into the movie, but they didn’t really even do that. There was nothing profound of any ideological bend in the movie, and there was no morality tale that forced viewers to agonize over a particular dilemma. It was just a long, long, long movie about a guy who had all the ability in the world, and chose to waste it all on a narcissistic, hedonistic journey surrounded by some of the biggest idiots on the planet. I would call them God’s little clowns, but I doubt God wants anything to do with them either. What was the internal struggle that pained Belfort into the life he was living? Scorsese doesn’t dare tell us. My own theory is that it was the “impostor syndrome” – Belfort knew he was making a killing, but he knew he was making it as a bush league, bottom shelf dirtbag; he treated the disappointment he felt that he was not rolling in the big leagues of Wall Street by spending and partying as if he were; this all fed on itself and create a negative feedback loop implosion that was always inevitable. Belfort wanted the high life, but he wanted it as a real player, not a Long Island scam artist; he treated his own reality as an impostor with every stereotypical mask the world has to offer. It’s not rocket science – but the intricacies of Jordan Belfort’s psyche are not addressed in this movie. The pitiful attempts at regulators to catch up with a really low level scam artist are not fleshed out. The moral fiber of a society that would ever allow a Stratton Oakmont to exist to begin with was not discussed. It just simply lacked a point. The movie had moments of comic genius – painfully good writing – and much of Belfort’s story is entertaining.

But at the end of the day, if I wasn’t going to get a dramatic business movie out of The Wolf of Wall Street, some kind of morality tale or psychological introspection would have been nice. Jordan Belfort is portrayed as nothing more than a party animal who lost his moral compass at age 22. And if the moral of the story is, “don’t be a party animal who loses your moral compass at age 22″, then fine, mission accomplished. But I suspect there was a lot more in the real life story than that – a lot more.

The Rational Optimist Reviewed

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The Rational Optimist is a rare find for those who love markets, love history, and love reading. Few books you will ever read combine the historical depth that this gem of a find from Matt Ridley has, and yet also challenge your thinking in the way he does. I am a lover of markets and one who finds the perpetual pessimism often permeating amongst those of a like mind to be, well, unacceptable. What Ridley does in this 350-page beauty is explain why, and do so in such a manner that not a single stone is left unturned.

My one qualifier before delving into the review is this: There are well over 50 pages that the book could have done without. This book is not an apology for naturalistic evolution and my review is not going to be a critique of it, but the desire to incorporate at least 50 pages of scientific voodoo into the book is unfortunate. I do not believe it enhanced the value proposition of the book and I do not believe it served up a coherent message. With that said, the book’s many, many fine points make it one of the finer reads I have enjoyed in a long time.

Fundamentally, Matt Ridley is arguing that rational people, guided by the lessons of history, science, and culture, are optimistic people. Many others have argued the same thing, but I doubt any have presented their point with such an excessive arsenal of support.

He begins with the best work I have seen on the true delineation of the human species from the animal kingdom. He makes the insightful point that ours has been an evolution by natural selection, but not among genes as much as a selection among ideas. when “ideas began to meet and mate”, the human race began an upward trajectory that it has still not come down from. The essence of the book, for Ridley, is that the “world will pull out of the current crisis because of the way that markets in goods, services, and ideas allow human beings to exchange and specialize honestly for the betterment of all”.

His first chapter enumerating the ways in which the world is currently a better place to live for the average human being than it has ever been is powerful, and irrefutable. It is also humbling. I will not repeat all of the data here because I want readers of this review to read the book for themselves to find out that the average Botswanan today earns more than the average citizen of Finland did in 1955. I want readers to understand the unbelievable progress that has been made for the poor, not only in the quality of life the poor have today, but also in the shrinking base of people who can be described as such (admittedly, there is much work to be done here). You have to read this chapter to appreciate the drama that is a world population doubling in just fifty years, but with more goods and services available to that population than it has ever had. (I do wonder what the climatologists would say that a car emits less pollution today at full speed than a PARKED CAR did in 1970). When we read of the lifestyle benefits that those we all consider poor today have which Cornelius Vanderbilt never enjoyed, it puts the economic challenges we face in perspective. Ridley knows economics enough to not just make vanilla cultural and sociological statements of fact; he applies these things to economic realities and controversies. For Ridley, the income gap is an “inevitable consequence of an expanding economy”. Indeed, he is right. And he is further right that the “forces which at first make inequality self-accentuating thus later tend to diminish it.”

He also posits an intriguing definition of prosperity which warrants consideration: “The increase in the amount of goods and services you can earn with the same amount of work.” This section should be required reading for Economics students across the land, and especially for Economics professors (I confess to being thrilled at his lambasting of those who favor perpetually rising housing prices via bizarre government manipulation – a short but precious anecdote in the early part of the book). The book provides a sort of history of economic progress combined with a normative understanding of what ought to be in the economic realm. Readers are treated to a deep dive into how economic cooperation came to be, and why that cooperation ought to be. The mutually beneficial exchange that takes place between humans is not only further delineation between us and all other animals, but it is the basis for our advancement since the beginning of civilization. Ridley provides extraordinary support for his position on trust (that it is a prerequisite for a happy and flourishing society), and he explains how trust and trade feed off of each other to make for genuine human progress.

There are a plethora of components to this book that will wow readers. Understanding the explosion in population of cities as a by-product of (a) The technology that made agriculture yield so much better, and (b) The innate desire to TRADE with one another, is brilliant. Even the most rural of economic thinkers will appreciate cities better after reading Ridley on the subject.

His obliteration of the biofuel cult is economically devastating and environmentally powerful. The analogy he makes of coal and electricity and other such loathed sources of energy to slavery – basically, that these energy developments automated countless human efforts, liberating people along the way, is a profound one.

What Ridley gets better than any author I have read, is that while certain “things” in an economy may be finite (a commodity’s supply, the lifeline of a patent, etc.), innovation is not. There is no limit to the innovation in the world, and there is no diminishing return associated therewith. Innovation is the great refutation of pessimism.

Ridley is not just right to criticize pathological pessimism ideologically; the historical case is irrefutable too. Ridley knows, as well, that pathological pessimism nearly always carries an agenda:

“In my own adult lifetime, I have listened to implacable predictions of growing poverty, coming famines, expanding deserts, imminent plagues, impending water wars, inevitable oil exhaustion, mineral shortages, falling sperm counts, thinning ozone, acidifying rain, nuclear winters, mad-cow epidemics, Y2K computer bugs, killer bees, sex-change fish, global warming, ocean acidification, and even asteroid impacts that would presently bring this happy interlude to a terrible end. I cannot recall a time when one or other of these scares was not solemnly espoused by sober, distinguished and serious elites and hysterically echoed by the media. I cannot recall a time when I was not being urged by somebody that the world could only survive if it abandoned the foolish goal of economic growth.”

And so it always is – pathological pessimists are not merely wrong because they are always wrong; they are always wrong because they propose solutions to fabricated problems that are far, far worse than the fabricated problems themselves.

Ridley’s book is frankly merciless on the pessimism movement (he is fond of the term, “apocaholism”). The book struck a chord with me because Ridley does not pull punches in diagnosing the immunity that has been given to the pessimism class when it comes to their abysmal track record.

I am a rational optimist, and I hope all readers of this fine book will be as well. “As long as somewhere somebody is incentivized to invent ways of serving others’ needs better, then the rational optimist must conclude that the betterment of human lives will eventually resume.” I am not interested in the biology of this as much as the spirituality, but I digress. Ridley offers an irrefutable case for optimism, and he does so on a moral plane. “It is precisely because there is still far more suffering and scarcity in the world than I or anybody else with a heart would wish that ambitious optimism is morally mandatory.”

Amen.