Generalizing and categorizing are necessary for us to make sense of the world, however they provide an inaccurate picture and make us jump to conclusions. Many businesses miss out on opportunities for growth in other countries, falsely assuming the people there are too poor to buy their product. How you live has more to do with income than your country, religion, or culture. For example, westerners often lump all 54 countries in Africa together even though there’s immense difference in income from country to country and even within a single country.
The largest expansion of the middle income consumer market in history is happening right now in Africa and Asia, yet western companies are missing out on investment opportunities due to antiquated ideas about these countries being poor and unable to ever change.
Iran has embraced family planning, and in fact average babies per woman in that country has dropped from more than 6 to fewer than 3 in just 15 years, the fastest drop ever. Yet many in the west still associate Iran with countries like Afghanistan.
There’s a wide-spread belief that religious people have bigger families, but on average both Christians and Muslims have around 3 babies per woman. How many children a couple have has everything to do with income level and almost nothing to do with religion.
The world is constantly changing. We all need to keep up-to-date on the latest data or we’ll have an incorrect view of the world. For example, the US is viewed as conservative by other rich countries, but this is changing. In 1996, only 27 percent of Americans supported same sex-marriage, but today, it’s over 70 percent.
It’s natural to think all problems have simple solutions, but reality is always more complicated than we think it is. We need to acknowledge we have a limited perspective and aren’t seeing everything. We shouldn’t always be in favor of (or always against) a particular idea due to our biases. We need to be humble and always question our preferred view of the world. We need to seek out different opinions.
We’re all wrong about lots of things. Nobody is an expert in everything. Experts in one subject are often highly ignorant of other subjects. It’s also important to note that experts can disagree with each other, and some people call themselves experts when they’re not, so we can’t blindly trust experts either.
Solutions that work in one situation won’t always work in others. The US spends more money on health than any other country, more than twice as much per capita compared to other rich countries. However, the US is number 40 in terms of life expectancy. How can the country that spends the most on health have such a low life expectancy?
This is due to the lack of public health insurance in the US. Rich people visit doctors more than they need, driving up health costs, while poor people can’t afford treatments and die younger than they should. Cuba is the poorest healthy country. It’s an example of how bad it is to think government can solve all problems. The US shows how bad it is to think capitalism can solve all problems. It’s better to find a balance between government and corporations than to think one or the other is the solution to everything.
When bad things happen, it’s natural to look for someone to blame. For example, pharmaceutical companies spend their money on researching rich people diseases rather than diseases that mainly affect the poor such as malaria. Who should we blame for this? Is it the CEO’s fault? Is it the board of directors’ fault? No. They’re just trying to increase profits to make shareholders happy. Is it the shareholder’s fault then? Pretty much everyone who has a retirement account is a shareholder in a pharmaceutical company. So in a way, everyone and no one is to blame. This is one example of how complex global problems are. We just don’t have simple answers to big problems like this.
We like to blame greedy businessmen, journalists, and foreigners, but usually the problem is in the system itself. Businessmen are required to maximize profits in order to stay employed. Likewise, journalists must compete to get the biggest audience or lose their job. They present the types of news stories that get the biggest ratings.
Well-meaning government policies sometimes have disastrous results. When something awful happens, we shouldn’t just blame the easiest target, but ask what the ultimate cause is. What incentives inherent in the system led to the problem?
Leaders don’t have as much power as we think they do. Several popes have condemned birth control, yet birth control use is the same for Catholics as any other group at the same income level.
The world has improved due to technology and regular people just doing their jobs. Even countries with incompetent leaders have progress. Leaders don’t deserve as much blame or credit as we give them. In real life, there are no good guys or bad guys. Real life is more complicated than that. Most people have good intentions, but bad things still happen. Improvements tend to happen through gradual systemic changes. It would be nice if there was a quick, easy solution to all our problems, but the world is too complex for easy fixes.
We should be skeptical of anyone telling us we need to act now. They’re usually trying to prevent you from thinking things through. With long-term dangers like global warming, we should certainly have a sense of urgency, but it’s also important to take time for careful analysis.
Don’t trust worse-case scenarios. It’s difficult to predict the future, so there should always be a range of possibilities. Also be sure you’ve got good data. Decisions shouldn’t be based on poor data. Without good data, you can’t know if what you’re doing is working.
Overall, I’d say this is a must-read book for everybody. Things are better now than they’ve ever been. This doesn’t mean we don’t still have problems that need to be fixed, but we shouldn’t give in to fear or panic either. As long as we keep the facts in mind, we’ll continue making this world an even better place than it already is.