Johan Norberg - Progress (2016)

This is not a Sales text. It is in the author’s mind a rebuttal to the flood of negative news that suggest the world is in mega-crises. Every pitch of progress a portent of peril.

Not simply an updated call to Enlightenment, compiler Norberg posits ten core areas where we don’t fully appreciate that we truly are living in a Golden Age, on an unstoppably bright path. The chosen format would have been a little less wearing for me had there been more solid successful future-proofers detailed.

Still, each chapter employs the trusted technique of beginning with a famous quote for ‘perspective’. One cracker being the final one atop his epilogue;

We have fallen upon evil times
and the world has waxed very old and wicked
Politics are very corrupt
Children are no longer respectful to their parents

An inscription almost six thousands years old? Whether it’s real or imagined, the angle is that every generation declares their epoch to be the most tumultuous. Another much-mocked made-up event springs to mind. As an Adam said to an Eve leaving a garden in Eden, ‘we live in times of unprecedented change’.

Still, back in reality there are a couple of wonderful selling stories in this book of positives. You have to hang on in there for them, though. As they appear all too fleetingly in between barrage upon bombardment of stats.

The first concerns an objection handle. It stems from a Nobel prize winner who has saved more human lives than any other. Just the billion. Dr Norman Borlaug and his Green Revolution stopped famine with rocketed crop yields from reduced farmland.

The author cites an Atlantic Gregg Easterbrook article ‘Forgotten benefactor of humanity’ article about when the top brass or power brokers do not recognise the issues of those at the sharp end. How good is this analogy for getting the downtrodden, unheard ‘users’ on-side?

Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists.
They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger.
They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels.
If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.

I might have been happy gaining this alone for the ten dollars. But despite the pattern of chapters focusing for me too much on stats and not enough on wonderfully told everyday illustrations to marvel with, there is a couple more.

How the tiny Chinese village of Xaiogang in December 1978 defied the regime of the day under fear of death to remake how farming was done and so loosening command control for the more market-minded China of today. A lovely metaphor worth looking up for anyone concerned with business change.

Quotable entries also abound. Here’s a sample three;

people who believe in the future also invest in the future

we do not base estimates on fact, rather on how easily we can recall examples (“availability heuristic”)

accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult (Vito Corleone in The Godfather)

One visual note, is that each chapter has one graph in it. Which always takes the shape of a slash. Forward or back. Denoting the obvious improvement in some key indicator. A clear image and point got across.

Finally, he ends with a line any seller might follow. It’s basically ‘there’ll likely be many obstacles ahead, but keep carrying the torch’.

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