Two Kinds of Optimism


I came across this post by World Bank Chief Economist, Paul Romer, talking about a climate change presentation he heard at the NBER Summer Institute. NBER, as I just learned, is the National Bureau of Economic Research. Now, the presentation was about climate, but what struck Romer, and subsequently me, was some insights on optimism.

Romer notes that there are two kinds of optimism — Complacent optimism and Conditional Optimism. Complacent optimism is sitting and thinking, hoping, and wishing for good things to happen. Conditional optimism is the belief that if we get busy and work to make things better, things will get better.

I can see a direct line between complacent optimism and cynicism. Thinking, hoping, and wishing is not enough. The late broadcaster Gwen Ifil noted that 'we can't expect the world to get better by itself.' We can, however, expect the world to get better if we work to make it better.

I am part way through Johan Norbert's book, Progress, which I'm sure I'll reference again. He outlines progress the world has made on issues like food, sanitation, life expectancy, the environment, freedom, literacy, poverty, equality, and violence. All of the progress stems from people making a decision to do something and then doing it. It is all very possible.

There are issues facing us and people in need, but thinking, wishing, and hoping — and I will add tweeting, posting, and liking — is not enough. It's the doing that matters.

We are optimistic over here because we focus on the doing.