From The Rational Optimist, p. 182:

Empires, indeed governments generally, tend to be good things at first and bad things the longer they last. First they improve society’s ability to flourish by providing central services and removing impediments to trade and specialisation; thus, even Genghis Khan’s Pax Mongolica lubricated Asia’s overland trade by exterminating brigands along the Silk Road…But…governments gradually employ more and more ambitious elites who capture a greater and greater share of the society’s income by interfering more and more in people’s lives as they give themselves more and more rules to enforce, until they kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. There is a lesson for today.

For me, those sentences are the crux of his book–Matt Ridley standing on one foot as it were. Basically anything that expands trade is good. Anything that moves in the direction of self-sufficiency is bad. Governments, like all monopolies, eventually stagnate and impede progress.

Once again, the implication is that our current elites are 180 degrees wrong. They are promoting precisely the sort of top-down organization of society that in the past has stifled trade and impeded progress. How to turn this around? One approach is to try to re-educate the elites (call this the Liberaltarian project). One approach is to try to overthrow them (call this the Tea Party project). A third approach is to try to escape them.

I think that escapist projects, such as seasteading, suffer from the drawback that they make it more difficult for you to interact with everyone else. Ridley’s whole point is that trade and sharing of ideas are the key to prosperity. As a result, I think that escapism has to work very rapidly on a very large scale if it is to work at all.

Previous posts on Ridley’s book are here and here.