For Reasons I Have Never Understood, People Like To Hear That the World Is Going To Hell

Deirdre N. McCloskey? Eduardo Porter? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Their are always powerful reasons to be pessimistic. News headlines about brutal warfare, callous crime, and environmental degradation predominate on a continuous electronic scroll of doom.

Yet, there are also reasons to be optimistic. The global rate of extreme poverty has declined and longevity has increased. Medical advances occur every day. A prominent Professor of Economics remarked that many people inexplicably prefer to “hear that the world is going to hell”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 2014 economist Deirdre N. McCloskey of the University of Illinois at Chicago published a book review in “Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics” containing the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 2014 Autumn, Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, Volume 7, Issue 2, Article: Measured, unmeasured, mismeasured, and unjustified pessimism: A review essay of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the twenty-first century by Deirdre Nansen McCloskey (University of Illinois at Chicago), Start Page 73, Quote Page 81, Supported by Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics, Faculty of Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands (Accessed on January 2, 2021; also available via ProQuest) link [/ref]

During the pretty good history of 1800 to the present the economic pessimists on the left have nonetheless been subject to nightmares of terrible, terrible failures.

Admittedly, such pessimism sells. For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell, and become huffy and scornful when some idiotic optimist intrudes on their pleasure. Yet pessimism has consistently been a poor guide to the modern economic world. We are gigantically richer in body and spirit than we were two centuries ago.

Below are two more citations and a conclusion.

In 2016 the quotation caught the eye of economics reporter Eduardo Porter who reprinted the statement in “The New York Times”:[ref] 2016 January 19, New York Times (Online), America’s Best Days May Be Behind It by Eduardo Porter, New York. (ProQuest) [/ref]

Since the time of Thomas Malthus, eras of depressed expectations like our own have inspired predictions of doom and gloom that were proved wrong once economies turned up a few years down the road.

“For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell,” the economic historian Deirdre N. McCloskey of the University of Illinois, Chicago, wrote in an essay about “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the blockbuster about income inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty.

A week later Morgan Housel of “The Motley Fool” investment advice company mentioned the statement:[ref] 2016 January 28, The Berkshire Eagle, The Motley Fool Investor: Why does pessimism sound so smart? by Morgan Housel, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (ProQuest) [/ref]

“For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell,” historian Deirdre N. McCloskey told The New York Times last week.

It’s hard to argue. Despite the record of things getting better for most people most of the time, pessimism isn’t just more common than optimism, it also sounds smarter. It’s intellectually captivating, and paid more attention to than the optimist, who is often viewed as an oblivious sucker.

In conclusion, Deirdre N. McCloskey deserves credit for this remark.

(Great thanks to quotation expert Nigel Rees who included this statement in his January 2022 newsletter while requesting a citation. This request led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

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