BOOK REVIEW: Johan Norberg
“Open: The Story of Human Progress: How Collaboration and Curiosity Shaped Humankind”
Atlantic Books London, 2021
By Adam Mazik
Johan Norberg makes a strong statement: every single time when societies and people have experienced an increase of wealth, innovations, and living standards, the reason was a broadly understood ‘openness’, of course, relative to the specific time. By openness, the Swede means openness towards trade, immigration, and the exchange and expression of different ideas. Analysing evidence from the 300,000-year history of Homo sapiens, he comes to the conclusion that every time those factors came together, the result was a remarkable explosion of wealth.
The lesson is this: the Western world does not have a patent on economic growth, openness, and tolerance. As Norberg shows, periods of wealth and relative freedom have appeared in different times and different cultures. And for a very long time, Europe has not been a very good example of the values that we today would describe as liberal. The second lesson is more painful: All those past enrichments ended. Wars, conflicts and political decisions in the past were able to destroy the fundaments and results of those dynamic populations. Each period of ‘openness’ and progress gave way to a time of ‘closing down’ and regress, a return to traditional(-ist) values and isolation from the rest of the world.