Why You Should Be Optimistic

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May 21, 2013

 

Watching the evening news, it’s easy to become cynical about the state of the world. Negative news sells, so we get a constant view of the downside of things, often in real time and to a nauseating degree of repetition and detail.

 

A more balanced view conveys the fact that we are living in one of the most exciting, opportunistic periods in history. Paradoxically, the same technology and Internet that serve a steady diet of negative news are also spreading knowledge and opportunities more widely than ever before.

 

History proves the truism that knowledge is power.  Unfortunately,
through much of history knowledge, power and resources concentrated in a
too-small number of hands. Both within nations and between nations, the gulf
between haves and have-nots grew wide.

 

But today we are in a new age in which information and knowledge are spreading more evenly. In the past five years alone, the proportion of the world’s population using
mobile devices has doubled. This freer availability of knowledge is empowering
individuals, whoever they are and wherever they live. The desire for individual
rights, freedom and democracy is spreading across the globe. Free markets and
capitalism have moved into places we once hardly could have imagined, such as the
former Soviet Union. The breaking of the Berlin Wall was no less amazing a feat
of the human spirit than placing a man on the moon.

 

And studies show that as knowledge and capitalism spread, poverty declines, health
improves and peace increases. China offers a dramatic example. In 1990, shortly
before the Internet really took off, the adult literacy rate was 78%. Twenty
years later it was 94%. During this time, freer markets led to annual economic
growth rates that routinely topped 10%, which led to China supplanting Japan as
the world’s second largest economy.

 
How is that good news for Americans, you may ask?

 

It’s important to recognize that the rest of the world’s rise need not be America’s
fall. This is not a zero-sum game. Imagine the need for raw materials, goods
and services that nations will generate as they continue to grow. Their good
news is our good news. The magic of Adam Smith’s invisible hand is that what’s
good for the baker is good for the rest of us. And what’s good for the rest of
the world will be good for the U.S. as opportunities for business, investment and
travel multiply. But first we have to embrace the positive changes taking place
and recognize how, by many measures, they make the world a better place.

 

May is a month when new college graduates look to their future life-paths with hope,
even knowing that missteps can and probably will occur. Fortunately for them
and us, many of the demonstrable trends at play in the world support such
optimism.