Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Rationally Optimistic Bicyclist

"The world of things ... is indeed often subject to diminishing returns. But the world of ideas is not. The more knowledge you generate, the more you can generate. And the engine that is driving prosperity in the modern world is the accelerating generation of useful knowledge. So, for example, a bicycle is a thing and is subject to diminishing returns. One bicycle is very useful, but there is not much extra gain in having two, let alone three. But the idea 'bicycle' does not diminish in value. No matter how many times you tell somebody how to make or ride a bicycle, the idea will not grow stale or useless or fray at the edges." From The Rational Optimist, by Matt Ridley

I'm really enjoying The Rational Optimist, even though I don't agree with all of Matt Ridley's points. This book has been well worth my time and I heartily recommend it.

That being said, let's take a moment to talk about the paragraph quoted at the top of this post.

I understand that he's just using the bicycle as an analogy here, but, I'm going to have to take exception to the sentence "One bicycle is very useful, but there is not much extra gain in having two, let alone three." Ridley talks a great deal about specialization in earlier chapters but left it out here.

Were he to open my garage, Matt Ridley would see I've got two hybrids and a beach cruiser (I won't count my old 10 speed hidden away up in the attic because it needs too much work at the moment to count as a full bicycle). What do I gain by having two hybrids? I've got a spare bike for use when one of my bikeless children want to go along on a bike ride - or - in the inevitable event the "diminishing returns" of mechanical failure means my beloved Bucephalus needs to go to the shop.

I've got the third bike, a beach cruiser, for use during the winter. It's cheap and has big balloon tires that work great on ice and snow. With the third bike I gain an inexpensive option to the wear and maintenance that would be incurred by riding a nicer bike in the snow, slush and road salt.

I DO, on the other hand, agree that the idea 'bicycle' never grows stale or useless. So, share the idea 'bicycle' with others today.

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. -- Thomas Jefferson
The Rational Optimist via Amazon

The Rational Optimist via Barnes and Noble

No comments: