The Evolution of Everything

The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (2016) by Matt Ridley is an impressive enunciation of how many, many things evolve in a bottom up way rather than a directed and planned manner.

Ridley starts by generalising evolution and then applies the idea to the Universe, Morality, Life, Genes, Culture, the Economy, Technology, the Mind, Personality, Education, Population, Leadership, Government, Religion, Money and the Internet. Ridley’s generalised evolution is that things improve with trial and error and rarely with planning.

The book makes great points in many areas, particularly the point that many people who accept biological evolution when confronted with the economy wonder who the great planner is and how things can be improved while ignoring that the economy has improved largely without a plan and direction. On top of this the repeated disasters of fully planned economies are often brushed aside by saying that this time things will be done by a wiser plan. Ridley has an interesting chapter on Money where he points out the strengths of distributed currency issuance against central banks. He makes his points well there.

Some of the chapters on other subjects push the metaphor too far but tend to make interesting points along the way.

For anyone who wants an overview of why people think that plans don’t work Ridley has written a great text. For anyone who has wondered how the world advances even though it’s apparent that management and politicians are often clueless it also provides a good explanation of how progress is possible. It oversells the thesis but makes an interesting case quite well.

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