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Trade and the Evolution of Prosperity

Posted April 27, 2014

Being concerned more usually with the mundane aspects and finer details of various international trade and compliance issues, it’s easy to completely lose sight of the forest for all the trees... In this respect, erstwhile British zoologist, conservationist, and journalist Matt Ridley reminds us of the broader significance and context of trade with his most recent book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves.

Ridley tracks human evolution over time since the Stone Age and contends the world has steadily improved for people in large part to trade, which he defines as the “market process of exchange and specialization” that drives innovation and ultimately benefits everyone.

According to Ridley, prosperity is “the increase in the amount of goods or services you can earn with the same amount of work.” He believes that when exchange, invention, and specialization proliferate, a society in effect “creates” time. As a result of this proliferation, modern people have specialized occupations, but consume hundreds of diverse things. This, Ridley claims is the definition of a higher standard of living.