What I’m Reading This Summer

 

I’ve always been an optimist when it comes to the ability of human beings to better their lives and their societies if only they are given the freedom to use their talents and abilities. That’s one reason News Corporation has always seen new technology as an asset (look at how the Wall Street Journal has embraced the iPad, for example) rather than a threat.

I have been reading two books that make a strong case that we ought to be even more optimistic today. Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist, which is out, offers a compelling argument that the increase in exchange and communications is accelerating improvements in the human condition because it is bringing together many more people – in other words, many more brains – to solve our problems. I don’t want to spoil the debut of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation – which will be out in October – but he suggests the operative question is, How do we create the optimum environment for encouraging this innovation? I won’t give away his answers, but I can guarantee Ricochet members that you will find it a fascinating read.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @FeliciaB

    Wow! Peter & Rob, you guys sure are getting an interesting diversity of contributors. Welcome, to the conversation, Mr. Murdoch. And like Mr. Carter, I look forward to more of your optimistic perspectives.

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    @BryanGStephens

    I’d just like to say Thank You for giving the News another voice than the Liberal Monolith. Great to see you here on Ricochet!

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    @

    Here, here! I think the ability of new technologies to facilitate the sharing of ideas as well as information should have a positive effect on the market’s ability to solve for problems beyond the scope of what folks in Washington can generally conceive. I’m not so naive as to suppose that we need no regulation, but I think the way we think about regulation has to fundamentally change to allow for this. If the government focused its energy on creating ever greater transparency and trusted its citizens to think for themselves, I suspect we’d have a smaller, less expensive, better functioning, and (much) more popular government.

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    @tabularasa

    I agree with Mr. Murdoch’s optimism, but to a point. I fear that overweening government can dampen innovative thought and, as importantly, the willingness of investors and entrepreneurs to turn ideas into reality.

    That said, if Mr. Murdoch espouses optimism, I’m willing to try. His purchase of the Wall St. Journal, instead of being the disaster predicted by the left, has made a great newspaper better–and more able to deal with the new technological paradigmthat are killing other newspapers.

    Welcome aboard, Mr. Murdoch.

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    @

    THE Rupert Murdoch? The great villain of college political science departments? Welcome.

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    @MelFoil

    The best environment for innovation is wherever these two things happen at once: good ideas thrive quickly and bad ideas die quickly. That environment is an open and free market. I think it’s about that simple.

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    @Claire

    Oh, yes, welcome! Do you prefer Rupert or Mr. Murdoch? (Or perhaps a reassuring Turkish kinship term, which Peter ağabey seems to have taken to quite well?) I hope you’ll be around often; I have many, many questions I’d like to ask you about your views on the future of news reporting.

    Thanks for the link to Matt Ridley’s site. Just five minutes on his blog cheered me terrifically. I hope every word of this item is true, for example. One of the more remarkable recent examples of the phenomenon Ridley describes is USHAHIDI, which was deployed, e.g., in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. After working with the group using it in Haiti, it occurred to me that we could customize the platform for use in Istanbul in advance of an earthquake here. We’re doing that now. It hasn’t been used that way before. New communication and crowd-sourcing technologies do have fantastic potential for helping us solve previously insoluble problems.

    But a caveat: The solutions are only as good as the crowd. Bad people can exchange ideas quickly–and solve their idea of a problem–using exactly the same technology.

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    @
    Claire Berlinski: But a caveat: The solutions are only as good as the crowd. Bad people can exchange ideas quickly–and solve their idea of a problem–using exactly the same technology. · Jul 30 at 2:16pm

    This is why many of the Founders emphasized the need for a moral society. Unless people’s hearts are changed, all the technology and ideas in the world don’t do much good. Ultimately, we hope that the idea of true goodness and morality itself will be superior and take over the “market,” but reality does seem to throw a wrench into that theory quite often.

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    @AaronMiller

    Welcome aboard, and thank you. Unlike these other poor saps, I was born late enough that I didn’t have to suffer through myopic news for long.

    Innovations in communications and transportation technology are certainly a net improvement, but they also pose challenges.

    If multiculturalism is not a direct consequence of internet and similar technologies, the movement was certainly empowered by them. Suddenly, people are exposed to more cultures and more international affairs than they know how to organize and qualify within a stable worldview. It’s not surprising that so many throw their hands up in defeat, resigning themselves to moral apathy and cultural equivocation. The innovations became ubiquitous so quickly that our relationships to them emerged accidentally, without deliberation.

    Some of the most promising innovations have been in matchmaking technologies, connecting people of related professions and pursuits from around the world. Enabling all the world’s brilliant minds is of limited value unless they can be matched and organized into productive partnerships.

    Now, if only the mass of information available on the internet could be organized and qualified, so it’s not like so many piles of papers scattered around a warehouse floor.

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    @Claire

    Yes, a lot of people forget that before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

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    @GADean
    Claire Berlinski:

    But a caveat: The solutions are only as good as the crowd. Bad people can exchange ideas quickly–and solve their idea of a problem–using exactly the same technology. · Jul 30 at 2:16pm

    And that is a vital caveat. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, I’ll remind all that in the 20th century a group of very smart fellows put their heads together to find a way to solve the “Jewish problem.”

    But I don’t want to be the sour note in a very welcome moment of optimism. I do think that the general innovation trend is positive, and the inherent goodness of people will keep us trending upwards, at least in the longer term.

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    @GeorgeSavage

    That’s one reason News Corporation has always seen new technology as an asset (look at how the Wall Street Journal has embraced the iPad, for example) rather than a threat.

    Anyone who hasn’t yet seen Rupert Murdoch’s inspired Wall Street Journal iPad app is missing something special. This single piece of software changes the ballgame by showing what is possible when inspired hardware meets great software to present the work of talented writers and editors. It’s the first digital news product that feels like a newspaper, but is better in every respect.

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    @DaveCarter

    Mr. Murdoch, first, welcome aboard! I appreciate your optimism. It is sorely needed. As to Steven Johnson’s ideas on how to foster an environment that will encourage innovation, may I hazard a guess that it does not involve waiting around for dictates to bolt down from Mt. Olympus, er… I mean Washington DC?

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    @JamesPoulos
    Claire Berlinski: Yes, a lot of people forget that before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments. · Jul 30 at 2:56pm

    Our liberaltarian friends haven’t forgotten, Claire. The idea that these two works are completely reconcilable — and not through Presbyterianism, either, I might add — fills a lot of big brains and big hearts to the left of center with big joy.

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