Pessimistically Optimistic About the Future
The Independent Review, 2016, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 343–346, Forthcoming
7 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2015
Date Written: 2016
Regarding the future of the economy and human progress, the great political economist James Buchanan often described himself as a pessimist when he looked to the future but an optimist when he looked back because surely the world should be worse off than what it is. My position is slightly different and might be characterized as “pessimistic optimism.” My optimism is grounded in the force of argument from Adam Smith to Julian Simon about the creative forces of the human imagination. My pessimism is equally grounded in the force of argument from Thomas Hobbes to James Buchanan about the war of all against all and the self-serving capacity of political interests. Squeeze these intellectual arguments together — Smith and Hobbes, Simon and Buchanan — and what you get is optimism about productive specialization and peaceful cooperation being realized by diverse populations plus a tempered pessimism due to the desire of many to rule over others and the attempt to control the economy.
Keywords: Adam Smith, Julian Simon, pessimistic optimism
JEL Classification: H11, O12, O31, P47, P48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation