Surprise! A Few Reasons for Hope and Optimism

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The amount of negative information that surrounds us can sometimes feel overwhelming. To be sure, there is plenty to be concerned about. However, here are some reasons to be hopeful. You probably won’t find them on the front page of any major media site, or even homegrown conspiracy site.

The Energy Problem. I found positivity in an unexpected source: the reputed curmudgeon Charlie Munger during a Berkshire shareholder meeting in the University of Berkshire Hathaway book (emphasis mine):

However, Munger beamed that Berkshire’s best days of contributing to civilization are ahead. He noted that mankind is getting close to solving the technical problem of our time -solar power. Cheap, clean, storable power will change the world. Munger said, “As I get closer and closer to my death, I get more cheerful about the future I won’t see.”

Munger may have surprised the crowd with a list of things he is quite optimistic about: The main problems of civilization are technical and solvable, all with energy, with huge benefits for civilization. Berkshire’s culture will continue to work for years to come. He likes to see people rising rapidly from poverty, and that is happening in China and India.

The Population Problem. I ran across this chart in The Economist that tracks the relationship between fertility and per-capita GDP. Keep in mind the replacement rate is 2.1 births (where the population just stays constant).


This reminded me of an older Economist article that explores some of the reasons that birth rate drops with relative wealth. As the world population continues to develop out of poverty, the overall birth rate will fall.

The Food Problem. The population will still go up for a while before it goes down. So read this NatGeo article about how the Netherlands became the second biggest exporter of food in the world despite being small and overcrowded. They have made great strides in sustainable farming technology.

While progress may turn out to be slow and hesitant, in the meantime I will feel inspired knowing that there are folks out there working hard on solving these problems.

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  1. If you look worldwide, there have been great strides in the past few decades. Extreme poverty is disappearing, child mortality is cut in half, life expectancy is up, polio is almost eradicated etc. All the charts look great.

    • I can agree that technological advances helped. But… Look at the chart of income inequality. It has never been this bad. In this country and all over the world. And it will only get worse from here. Also, any growth we had over the last decade has been funded by debt at the expense of future generations.

      • I agree with Nick. Inequality is a huge problem and not an easy one to tackle. Large amounts of debt on countries, governments, corporations, individuals is just mind boggling.

        • what u are talking is relative poverty which I think will always exist..

          what we have to focus on is absolute poverty which should be rightfully relegated to the history books.

          relative inequality will always exist and in some ways may be desirable.
          you do not want to eliminate the incentive to strive, struggle and make “more” which is the basis of human competitiveness

      • In the USA yes income inequality is going up. Globally though income inequality is going down.

  2. Random thoughts on the Nat Geo article:

    — If it weren’t National Geographic bringing us this information, I’d suspect it was science fiction or a hoax. It’s that amazing.

    — This encourages me to think technology will find a way to fix global warming, and without the need to reduce production, ie, wages.

    — There’s no limit to the intelligence or ingenuity of homo sapiens.

    — This works in a first-world country, but will it also in poor, near-starvation countries? Or will desperate people break the glasshouses to get at the food inside?

    Thanks, Jonathan, for this article. Makes me glad I’m a subscriber.

  3. A great article to read and start the day on a positive note! There’s nothing wrong with hoping for the best, as long we do our share in making each problem easier to bear…even in our own little ways.

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