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Category — Master Resource

Julian Simon on the ‘Ultimate Resource’ (human ingenuity, the cascading resource)

Julian Simon (1932–98) is the worldview scholar most associated with this blog. MasterResource takes its name from Simon’s characterization of energy as the master resource and human ingenuity as the ultimate resource.

This post reproduces some quotations in the ‘ultimate resourceship’ literature to illuminate the contra-Malthusianism worldview that a greater number of people is the solution, not the problem, in free-market settings.

“The world’s problem is not too many people, but a lack of political and economic freedom.”

- Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, N.Y.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 11.

“Discoveries, like resources, may well be infinite: the more we discover, the more we are able to discover.”

- Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, p. 82.

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July 14, 2014   1 Comment

Our Age of Energy

Will future historians characterize the twentieth century as the age of energy?  There is much reason to assert the affirmative.

For most of human history, life was miserable. Until the 1900’s, average life expectancy topped out at about 35. There was no such thing as economic growth. Humans subsisted on what they could till, herd, pick from bushes, hunt, or fish.

The world witnessed unbelievable social, economic and geographic growth in the twentieth century. The world has shown remarkable growth in social (population) and economic (wealth) this century. Also it has grown technologically (developed the computer and nuclear power) and geographically (mobility). Our political advances (democratic form of government overcoming communistic form of government) also come about indirectly due to the energy sector.

Why has the world advanced so much this century? My thesis is that most of the advances came about because of the utilization of natural resources (energy) and in particular, hydrocarbons (coal, oil and natural gas). Of course incentives to allow the ultimate resource to mine the master resource are crucial, which brings in capitalism on the supply and demand sides.

Does the Age of Energy deserves classification in a similar historical context as the Renaissance, Reformation, and the Enlightenment eras? [Read more →]

July 5, 2013   3 Comments

Fossil Fuels: Humanity’s Liberator (escaping the Malthusian curse via coal, oil, and gas)

[Ed. note: Part II tomorrow by Dr. Goklany will examine how fossil fuels saved nature, not only mankind, given population growth and the increasing demand for energy.]

What was instrumental in powering the grand transformation that began with Industrial Revolution? The answer is fossil fuels that upended a world that was dependent on living nature for virtually its entire well-being–and thus nature’s Malthusian vise.”

For most of history, outside of conflict, human existence was defined by climate, weather, disease, and other natural factors. Virtually everything that humanity depended upon was the recent product of living nature.

What economic historian Edward Wrigley calls “the organic economy” supplied humanity with all its food, fuel, clothing, and skins, and much of its medicine and material products. Living nature also supplied the sustenance for the animals—oxen, horses, donkeys, camels, even elephants—that humans drafted as beasts of burden to transport themselves and their goods, till the soil, and provide mechanical power.

Organic Fuel, Poverty Energy

Food for human beings and feed for animals were then, as now, the direct or indirect product of recent plant photosynthesis. Virtually all fuel was obtained via woody products. Houses were built from logs and other vegetation supplemented by clay, earth, and stones. The few worldly goods humans possessed were also mostly from recent photosynthetic products (e.g., wood, natural fiber, skin, or bone), barring the occasional trinket or luxury good made of some exotic metal or stone.

No wonder that the gods who controlled the weather and rain— Zeus, Jupiter, Indra, Thor—were the mightiest in the pantheons of ancient civilizations. [Read more →]

January 24, 2013   18 Comments

Appreciating the Master Resource (Part II: Energy Foes Agree!)

[Editor note: Part I in this two-part series examined quotations on the primacy of energy for human betterment from friends of conventional energy and from neutral analysts.]

“When energy is scarce or expensive, people can suffer material deprivation and economic hardship.”

-  John Holdren, 1991 (full citation below)

“A reliable and affordable supply of energy is absolutely critical to maintaining and expanding economic prosperity where such prosperity already exists and to creating it where it does not.”

-  John Holdren, 2000 (full citation below)

Free-market energy proponents gain the high ground when they stress the utilitarian nature of affordable, plentiful, reliable energy. Energy statists must play defense when their opponents stress the need to keep energy affordable for the less financially able and those billion-plus world citizens who do not have access to modern forms of energy.

Increased energy affordability is not bad but good. Yet cheap energy is the enemy to the other side (although the Obama greens will not publicly admit it). Julian Simon noticed as much when he wrote during the BTU tax debate in 1993, titled The Cheaper the Energy the Better:

Some people simply believe that it is ipso facto a good thing to use less energy and have less economic growth. As Paul Ehrlich put it, “Giving society cheap abundant energy is . . . like giving an idiot child a machine gun.” Other backers of the [BTU tax] bill seek not only to preserve the supply of energy but also to return to a “simpler life” (for others, of course, not for themselves) because it will make us better human beings. As Amory Lovins puts it, “If nuclear power were clean, safe, economic, assured of ample fuel . . . it would still be unattractive.”

This presents a quandary for the energy interventionists (aka forced energy transformationists) given that prominent voices in moments of candor have  expounded on the importance of affordable, plentiful, reliable energy for humankind.

The following sampling of quotations documents this point. We start with John Holdren,  President Obama’s science advisor, and continue with Paul Ehrlich, Amory Lovins, and some prominent left-of-center environmental and energy/environmental groups. [Read more →]

June 20, 2011   2 Comments

Appreciating the Master Resource (Part I: Energy Friends)

Energy is ubiquitous to modern industrial life. It is the fourth factor of production in addition to the textbook triad of land, labor, and capital. Julian Simon coined the term master resource to describe the resource of resources, energy.

Energy as been recognized as a unique driver of economic activity and human betterment for almost two centuries–about as long as carbon-based energies came to be recognized as a sea change from the inherently dilute, unreliable renewable energies of before. The Industrial Revolution was enabled by coal, the energy required by the new machinery, as W. S. Jevons so brilliantly saw in his day.

The quotations below, some classic, resonate as well or better today than ever before. They are as ‘right” as the peak-oil quotations (compiled here and here) have been wrong. Interestingly, even the foes of plentiful, affordable energy (oil, gas, and coal, if not hydro and nuclear) have also recognized the primary role of energy in modern life as will be documented in Part II.

19th Century Recognition

“Energy will do anything that can be done in the world.”

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), quoted in Vaclav Smil, Energy: A Beginner’s Guide (Oxford: One World, 2006), epigraph.

“Coal, in truth, stands not beside but entirely above all other commodities. It is the material energy of the country—the universal aid—the factor in everything we do. With coal almost any feat is possible or easy; without it we are thrown back in the laborious poverty of early times.”

- William Stanley Jevons, The Coal Question (London: Macmillan, 1865), p. viii.

“Coal is everything to us. Without coal, our factories will become idle, our foundries and workshops be still as the grave; the locomotive will rues in the shed, and the rail be buried in the weeds. Our streets will be dark, our houses uninhabitable. Our rivers will forget the paddlewheel, and we shall again be separated by days from France, by months for the United States. The post will lengthen its periods and protract its dates. A thousand special arts and manufacturers, one by one, then in a crowd, will fly the empty soil, as boon companies are said to disappear when the cask is dry. We shall miss our grand dependence, as a man misses his companion, his fortune, or a limb, every hour and at every turn reminded of the irreparable loss. Wise England will then be the silly virgin without the oil in her lamp.”

- Anonymous, The Times, April 19, 1866, p. 10; reprinted in Sandra Peart, ed., W. S. Jevons: Critical Responses, 4 vol. (New York: Routledge, 2003), vol. 4, p. 196. [Read more →]

June 17, 2011   2 Comments

Cars, Washing Machines, or Both? (energy is the master resource ….)

What did Julian Simon have in common with Bjorn Lomborg? Both had strong statistics experience, and both started their research believing in popular environmental and over-population fears. Both Simon and Lomborg were convinced they could employ statistical  research to document and address these problems.

However, both Simon and Lomborg unexpectedly proved themselves wrong by looking seriously at empirical evidence.  Simon’s Malthusian-paradigm-busting book, The Ultimate Resource (1981), influenced many with its optimistic pro-technology data, analysis, and conclusions. (1) Years later Wired magazine interviewed Julian Simon and put him on the cover, complete with Julian’s little red devil’s horns.

Bjorn Lomborg picked up the Wired issue at the Los Angeles airport and read Simon’s claims with skepticism and even dismay.  Simon had to be wrong! And as a statistic professor, Lomborg was confident he could document and popularize the errors.  So, another convert was born through sound statistical research.

Lomborg discovered to his surprise that Simon and later associates (whose articles were gathered in The Resourceful Earth and Ultimate Resource 2), were essentially correct in documenting technological benefits and environmental progress. Pollution levels were dropping in developed countries, natural resources becoming less scarce, and population increases brought benefits that could outweigh environmental costs.

Now another statistician, Hans Rosling, has joined this ongoing debate with a series of creative graphical presentations explaining the stunning economic progress in the developed world since the Industrial Revolution, and the value of extending these benefits to billions still living in pre-industrial poverty.

Hail to the Washing Machine! (Hans Rosling)

Rosling’s latest presentation at a recent TED conference focuses on the quiet benefits of washing machines in the lives of women.  Rosling notes that when he asks his environmentally-sensitive university classes how many don’t drive cars, a number raise their hands, pleased to show their commitment.

But then he asks how many wash their clothes by hand, no one responds.  (I actually looked into this many years ago when renting a small house in Houston.  The Whole Earth Catalog had a hand-cranked washing device. If I could have hooked it up to a stationary bicycle, I might have tried it.)

Rosling’s core points are: [

March 24, 2011   5 Comments

Anti-Energy, Anti-Industrial Policy: When is Enough Enough?

“Energy is the master resource, because energy enables us to convert one material into another. As natural scientists continue to learn more about the transformation of materials from one form to another with the aid of energy, energy will be even more important.”

- Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 162.

Energy is the master resource, as Simon says. Even anti-energy zealots have admitted as much in their more sober moments. “A reliable and affordable supply of energy is absolutely critical to maintaining and expanding economic prosperity where such prosperity already exists and to creating it where it does not,” Obama’s science advisor John Holdren once said. (1)

UK Energy Trouble

The indispensability of affordable, plentiful energy has come to the fore as anti-energy policies have collided against human needs. During Britain’s coldest December in a century, families were forced to choose between keeping homes warm and feeding their children nourishing meals – thanks to climate policies that have forced extensive reliance on wind power and deliberately driven energy prices skyward.

Barely two months later, the UK’s power grid CEO informed the country that its days of reliable electricity are numbered. Families, schools, offices, shops, hospitals and factories will just have to “get used to” consuming electricity “when it’s available,” not necessarily when they want it or need it. A new “smart grid” will be used to allocate decreasing electricity supplies, on a rolling basis or according to bureaucratic determinations as to which consumers most need available power – mostly from wind turbines that provided a pitiful 0.04% of Britain’s electricity during its coldest days last December.

Germany Too

Meanwhile, the EU’s Energy Commissioner warned that German electricity prices are already at “the upper edge” of what society can accept and businesses can tolerate. Taxes, levies and regulations imposed in the name of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and global warming are forcing companies to relocate to other countries and causing “a gradual process of de-industrialization” across Germany. [Read more →]

March 11, 2011   5 Comments

Dear John Holdren: Where is our "Indispensable," "Reliable," "Affordable" Energy?

[Editor note: A previous iteration of this post was published on January 14th. Given the inaction of the Obama Administration on offshore drilling in the last year, part of a pervasive strategy to discourage carbon-based energy production and usage, this post, this question needs to be raised anew.]

From time to time, John Holdren has acknowledged that plentiful, affordable, reliable energy is vital to human well being. Indeed, there is no going back to an energy-poor world. (Remember: caveman energy was 100% renewable.)

America–and the world–need more carbon-based energy, not less. Wind and solar are inferior energies compared to the real thing that consumers choose and want more of–oil, gas, and coal.

Holdren on the Importance of Energy

When Holdren or Obama advocates policies that risk making energy artificially scarce or less reliable, these words can be used to argue for nonregulatory approaches to energy policy:

“Virtually all of the benefits that now seem necessary to the ‘American way’ have required vast amounts of energy. Energy, in short, has been our ultimate raw material, for our commitment to economic growth has also been a commitment to the use of steadily increasing amounts of energy necessary to the production of goods and services.”

   -  John Holdren and Philip Herrera, Energy (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1971), p. 10.

“When energy is scarce or expensive, people can suffer material deprivation and economic hardship.”

    -  John Holdren, “Population and the Energy Problem,” Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, Spring 1991, p. 231.

“Energy is an indispensable ingredient of material prosperity. . . . Where and when energy is in short supply or too expensive, people suffer from lack of direct energy services (such as cooking, heating, lighting, and transport) and from inflation, unemployment, and reduced economic output.”

    -  John Holdren, Population and the Energy Problem,” Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, Spring 1991, p. 232.

“Supplying energy to the economy contributes to the production of a stream of economic goods and services generally supportive of well-being.” [Read more →]

December 31, 2009   5 Comments

Obama's Lost Olympic Bid in Copenhagen: Remembering Chicago's (Electric) World's Fair of 1893

[Editor note: This excerpt from Bradley's next book, Edison to Enron: Energy Markets and Political Strategies, is part of a five-chapter history of Samuel Insull, the father of the modern power industry.]

President Obama just returned from Copenhagen empty handed. His hometown will not get the 2016 Olympics, or as a representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Chicago operation advertised it, the “Blue Green Olympics.”

Given the science, economics, and politics of the global warming, aka climate change, it can be hoped that Obama–and the heads of all governments around the world–come away ‘empty handed’ in Copenhagen in December. No town, city, province, or country should be burdened with energy rationing when consumer-driven, conventional energy has become more sustainable, not less.

The real global issue is economic recovery and growth, which means expanded private property and enhanced market institutions to promote sustainable growth in place of abject poverty and economic underperformance.

Flash back to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It introduced the world to the newest energy, electricity, soon to become the energy of energies. A new era of hope and progress was on display. Twenty million visitors had their lives changed by witnessing the results of the transformation of coal inputs into electric outputs. [Read more →]

October 5, 2009   1 Comment

Julian Simon on the Ultimate Resource (forget about 'peak energy'–worry about peak government)

Julian Simon (1932–98) is an inspiration to those of us here at MasterResource and, indeed, the whole capitalist movement. Indeed, it was he who characterized energy as the master resource and human ingenuity as the ultimate resource.

In honor of Simon, I have reproduced some quotations from his works and invite readers to add their favorite in the comment section.

“The world’s problem is not too many people, but a lack of political and economic freedom.”

- Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, N.Y.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 11.

“There is only one important resource which has shown a trend of increasing scarcity rather than increasing abundance. That resource is the most important of all—human beings. . . . [An] increase in the price of peoples’ services is a clear indication that people are becoming more scarce even though there are more of us.”

- Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, N.Y.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 581.

“Human beings create more than they destroy.”

- Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, N.Y.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 580.

 “Progress toward a more abundant material life does not come like manna from heaven. . . . My message certainly is not one of complacency. In this I agree with the doomsayers: our world needs the best efforts of all humanity to improve our lot.”

- Julian Simon, “Introduction,” in Simon, ed., The State of Humanity (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995), p. 27.

“Adding more people causes problems. But people are also the means to solve these problems. The main fuel to speed the world’s progress is our stock of knowledge; the brakes are our lack of imagination and unsound social regulations of these activities. The ultimate resource is people—especially skilled, spirited, and hopeful young people endowed with liberty—who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefits, and so inevitably they will benefit the rest of us as well.”

- Julian Simon, “Introduction,” in Simon, ed., The State of Humanity (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995), p. 27.

And here is one Simon-like quotation from outside of the Simon tradition to think about!

“The worst of all forms of pollution is wasted lives.”

 - Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (New York: Plume/Penguin, 1992, 1993), p. 162.

September 5, 2009   9 Comments