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Category — Simon, Julian

Julian Simon’s ‘The Ultimate Resource’ (1981) Speaks to Us Today

[Ed. note: Julian Simon, born February 12, 1932, died four days before his 66th birthday. He would have been 82 years old today. MasterResource takes its name from Simon’s term for energy, and we publish on his oeuvre from time to time.]

Thirty-three years after its publication by Princeton University Press, The Ultimate Resource remains insightful and timely—if not timeless. Simon’s Ultimate Resource 2, published in 1996, greatly expanded upon the original, but the major themes were not changed due to the solid worldview that Simon had developed in the 1970s.]

Energy: The Master Resource

“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 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 91.

Energy Optimism

“Technological forecasts of resource exhaustion are often unsound and misleading [in part because] … the physical quantity of a resource in the earth, not matter how closely defined, is not known at any time, because resources are only sought and found as they are needed.” (p. 40) [Read more →]

February 12, 2014   1 Comment

“Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability” Revisited: Part II

“Greater energy consumption, higher economic growth, and more people are not increasing air pollution but reducing it in the world’s leading capitalist societies. More people mean more solutions …. What appears to be a paradox is really a Simon truism.”

- Robert Bradley, Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability, p. 85.

This concludes a two-part (Part I yesterday) look-back at the major points made in Rob Bradley’s 2000 primer on energy sustainability inspired by the worldview of Julian Simon.

Energy Affordability

“In terms of work-time pricing, conventional energy has become dramatically more affordable throughout this century … for electricity. The average U.S. worker needed over 20 minutes of labor to purchase a gallon of gasoline in the 1920s. In the 1990s a less polluting, higher performing, and more taxed gallon of gasoline cost a worker close to 6 minutes on average. The work time price of 100 kilowatt hours of electricity (approximately the power needed to run today’s average home for three days) dropped from over ten hours in the 1920s and 1930s to under a half hour in the 1990s.”

Robert Bradley Jr., Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability, p. 50.

“There is little reason to believe that natural resource prices behave differently than a basket of other (non-depletable) goods over long time periods. And even if real prices increase in certain periods, work-time prices can be expected to fall in a growing economy.”

Ibid. p. 53.

Energy Intensity

“Energy intensity (measured as energy used per unit of Gross Domestic Product) dropped by one-third in the U.S. between the 1950s and the 1990s. Yet energy consumption per person has increased almost 50 percent in the same period.”

Ibid., p. 54.

“Next generation gas-fired turbines will crack the 60 percent efficiency threshold—called the ‘four minute mile’ of turbine efficiency—compared to existing aged gas and coal units that average around 40 percent efficiency.”

Ibid., p. 55. [Read more →]

November 27, 2013   No Comments

“Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability” Revisited: Part I

“Innovation does not appear to be a depleting resource but an expanding, open-ended one. Instead of encountering diminishing returns, new advances appear to be expanding the horizon of new possibilities.”

- Robert Bradley, Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability, p. 40.

A  decade ago, I worked for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as Director of the Energy, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Task Force.  Energy was a critical part of this area for state legislatures, covering such issues as

  • Global warming issues such as the Kyoto Protocol, carbon pricing schemes (cap-and-trade, etc.) in light of the precautionary principle;
  • Oil and natural gas affordability for  domestic industry (U.S. manufacturers were going overseas for cheaper labor and fuel); and
  • Gasoline taxes

ALEC was a free-market resource for state legislators. My task force’s crucial energy work had been done by Ross Bell and Chris Doss before me, and Dan Simmons and Todd Wynn came after me. It is still active today on such hot-button issues as state mandates for politically favored renewable energies and net metering mandates.

A highlight of my tenure at ALEC was a book project, a rarity for us. It is with pride and a sense of celebration that I recall the publication of  Bradley’s Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability in 2000.

The 150-page primer originated from some conversations I had with Rob the year before. We lamented the lack of an effective, concise primer that countered the still-popular notions of increasing resource scarcity and other negative notions that too often became a rationale for government activism. We also missed the great Julian Simon, who had recently died. [Read more →]

November 26, 2013   1 Comment

Free Market Environmentalism: Julian L. Simon Memorial Award Remarks

“We appear to be on the Road to Serfdom, paved with green bricks rather than red bricks…. It is actually likely that the United States is now approaching State ownership of about 50 percent of all its land—a level of socialist land ownership unequalled in the world.”

It is a fabulous honor to receive the Julian Simon Memorial Award. Julian was one of the seminal thinkers of the 20th century—and one of the first to challenge the radical Greens’ attack on freedom and progress.

Simon demolished the limits to growth and the belief that human progress was bound in a Malthusian straitjacket, and limited by the known or presumably known physical supplies of natural resources. He argued that the ultimate resource was the limitless nature of man’s mind—his intelligence, innovation, discovery, and invention, constantly discovering and creating new resources where none had existed before. For instance, the looming scarcity of copper vanished with its replacement by abundant beach sand, by silica.

In the past decade, the doomsayers returned again, gleefully predicting the end of growth and the need to reduce population and living standards because of their long hoped-for exhaustion of fossil fuels and the arrival of peal oil and peak gas. But then to their dismay, they witnessed the ultimate resource, man’s intransigent mind, turn the Earth’s abundance of shale deposits into a potential cornucopia of oil and natural gas, requiring nothing more than a drill and water pressure—hydraulic fracing—to once more shatter the supposed limits to growth. [Read more →]

February 15, 2013   3 Comments

Energy Realism, Energy Optimism: Julian L. Simon Memorial Award Remarks

“I might add a prediction—that the hydrocarbon energy age could still be young, even quite young. The much-hyped emergence of a new renewable energy era by mid-century is less our energy future than our energy past…”

I am honored to receive the [2002] Julian Simon award tonight. My thanks go to the Simon family and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for having this annual award to recognize and encourage new contributions in the “sustainable development” field that Simon pioneered.

My appreciation also goes out to a number of groups within the classical liberal “structure of production” that have supported my intellectual development over the last quarter century, and in particular the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, the Cato Institute, and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

Julian Simon was very interested in energy and energy-environmental issues. I have identified six of his themes in this area:

  • Energy is “the master resource” because energy is pervasive in industrial activity, and energy allows us to transform resources into more valuable goods and services (such as turning salt water into drinking water, a very energy-intensive process)
  • Natural resources originate from the mind, not the ground, and therefore are not depletable. Thus energy can be best understood as a pyramid of increasing substitutability and thus supply and not a “bell curve” with any particular hydrocarbon energy.
  • The average person in market settings creates (transforms) more inanimate energy than he or she consumes.
  • The average person in market settings improves the natural environment more than he or she despoils it. [Read more →]

February 14, 2013   3 Comments

The Intellectual Victor: Julian L. Simon Memorial Award Remarks

“Have you noticed something about fossil fuels–we are the only creatures that use them. What this means is that when you use oil, coal or gas, you are not competing with other species. When you use timber, or crops or tide, or hydro or even wind, you are [competing]. There is absolutely no doubt that the world’s policy of encouraging the use of bio-energy, whether in the form of timber or ethanol, is bad for wildlife – it competes with wildlife for land, or wood or food.”

“The eco-pessimist view ignores history, misunderstands finiteness, thinks statically, has a vested interest in doom, and is complacent about innovation.”

It is now 32 years, nearly a third of a century, since Julian Simon nailed his theses to the door of the eco-pessimist church by publishing his famous article in Science magazine: “Resources, population, environment: an oversupply of bad news”. It is also 40 years since The Limits to Growth and 50 years since Silent Spring, plenty long enough to reflect on whether the world has conformed to Malthusian pessimism or Simonian optimism.

Loutish Critics

Before I go on, I want to remind you just how viciously Simon was attacked for saying that he thought the bad news was being exaggerated and the good news downplayed. Verbally at least Simon’s treatment was every bit as rough as Martin Luther’s. Simon was called an imbecile, a moron, silly, ignorant, a flat-earther, a member of the far right, a Marxist. “Could the editors have found someone to review Simon’s manuscript who had to take off his shoes to count to 20?” said Paul Ehrlich. [Read more →]

February 13, 2013   5 Comments

Julian Simon: A Pathbreaking, Heroic Scholar Remembered

“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.

“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.

Julian Simon (1932-1998) was born February 12th, eighty-one years ago today. MasterResource, which is named in his honor, applies Simon’s ultimate resource insight to the master resource of energy and to related environmental issues (see Appendix A).

This week, MasterResource will publish the remarks of three former Julian L. Simon Memorial Award winners: Matt Ridley, Robert Bradley, and Robert J. Smith. (The 12 recipients of the award to date are listed in Appendix B.)

There have been many tributes to and recognitions of Simon, both before and after his untimely death. Don Boudreaux, for example, former chairman of the department of economics at George Mason University, wrote:

The three scholars who have had the the greatest impact on my own thinking are F. A. Hayek, James Buchanan, and Julian Simon…. [Simon's] vital idea of “the ultimate resource” … is one of the most profound—and least understood—in all of the social sciences.

F. A. Hayek wrote to Simon upon reading Economics of Population Growth (1977): [Read more →]

February 12, 2013   1 Comment

“Happy Earth Day” by Julian Simon

[Editor note: Julian Simon titled this silver-anniversary essay, "Earth Day: Spiritually Uplifting, Intellectually Debased." Posts about the ideas of Simon (1932–1997), an inspiration to this blog, can be found here.]

April 22 [1995] marks the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. Now as then its message is spiritually uplifting. But all reasonable persons who look at the statistical evidence now available must agree that Earth Day’s scientific premises are entirely wrong.

During the first great Earth Week in 1970 there was panic. The public’s outlook for the planet was unrelievedly gloomy. The doomsaying environmentalists–of whom the dominant figure was Paul Ehrlich–raised the alarm: The oceans and the Great Lakes were dying; impending great famines would be seen on television starting in 1975; the death rate would quickly increase due to pollution; and rising prices of increasingly-scarce raw materials would lead to a reversal in the past centuries’ progress in the standard of living.

The media trumpeted the bad news in headlines and front-page stories. Professor Ehrlich was on the Johnny Carson show for an unprecedented full hour–twice. Classes were given by television to tens of thousands of university students.

It is hard for those who did not experience it to imagine the national excitement then. Even those who never read a newspaper joined in efforts to clean up streams, and the most unrepentant slobs refrained from littering for a few weeks. Population growth was the great bugaboo. [Read more →]

April 20, 2012   4 Comments

Julian Simon Remembered (Would have been 80 today)

“[Julian] Simon found that humanity progressed not only by solving immediate problems within the existing institutional framework but also by creatively improving the framework over time. . . . In the short run, members of society adopt localized technical and contractual fixes. In the medium range, they may explore government regulatory policies. In the longer term, they expand the scope and scale of the liberal institutions. These institutions of economic freedom—private property, binding contracts, and the rule of law—improve incentive structures that foster both economic well-being and environmental stewardship.”

- Fred Smith, “Introduction,” in Robert Bradley, Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability (Washington, D.C.: ALEC, 2000), p. 12.

Julian Simon (1932–98) would have been eighty years old today. MasterResource is inspired by his contributions to energy (what he labeled “the master resource”), as well as his open-ended view of human ingenuity (what he called “the ultimate resource”).

Who can forget Simon’s statement: “It’s reasonable to expect the supply of energy to continue becoming more available and less scarce, forever.” [1] That one got the neo-Malthusians (fixity-depletionists) mad!

Or this: “Discoveries, like resources, may well be infinite: the more we discover, the more we are able to discover.” [2] The cascading effect of human discovery, indeed, the open-endedness of entrepreneurship (and in the mineral world, resourceship), is a very powerful explanatory concept.

And his public policy conclusion: “The world’s problem is not too many people, but a lack of political and economic freedom.” [3] Simon elaborated:

[Read more →]

February 12, 2012   10 Comments

Go Industrial, Not ‘Green’ (Part II)

[Editor note: Mr. Epstein, a new Principal at MasterResource, is Founder of the Center for Industrial Progress. Part I appeared yesterday.]

But what about the “environmental impact” of industrial development? Isn’t the “green” movement providing a salutary influence us by helping us combat that problem? Again, no.

The idea of “environmental impact” is what philosopher Ayn Rand called an “intellectual package-deal.” Such a concept dishonestly packages together two very different things—the impact of development on the human environment and the impact of development on the non-human environment.

Industrial development will certainly often harm various non-human environments—but it is a godsend to the human environment. By lumping together concern with the non-human environment (e.g., displacing some caribou to get billions of barrels of the lifeblood of civilization) and the human environment (e.g., air quality), anti-industrialists are able to dupe Americans into thinking that sacrificing to caribou somehow benefits them.

Historically, industrial progress brought with it a radical improvement of the human environment. Indeed, industrial progress essentially is the improvement of the human environment. The reason we develop is to make our surroundings better so that our lives are better, cleaner, healthier safer—in the face of a natural environment that is often hostile to human life.

Contrary to “green” mythology, man’s natural environment is neither clean nor safe. In a non-industrialized, “natural” state, men face all sorts of health dangers in the air and water, from the choking smoke of an open fire made using plant matter (a cause of over a million deaths a year to this day) to the feces-infested local brook that he must share with farm animals.

Industrial development gives men the technology and tools to make their environment healthier—from sanitation systems to sturdier buildings to less onerous job conditions to comfortable furniture to having healthy, fresh food at one’s disposal year round, to the wealth and ability to preserve and travel to the most beautiful parts of nature. And so long as we embrace policies that protect property rights, including air and water rights, we protect industrial development and protect individuals from pollution.

As for the “sustainability” of industrial progress, an accusation that dates back to Marx, this fails to recognize the fact (elaborated on by Julian Simon and Ayn Rand) that man has an unlimited capacity to rearrange nature’s endless stockpile of raw materials into useful resources—which is why the more resources we use, the more resources we have. [Read more →]

September 24, 2011   12 Comments