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Category — Simon, Julian

Bill Gates on “The Bet” (Julian Simon’s continued march into the mainstream)

“Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, take note. Look who is in the mainstream now! Julian Simon, step by step, is becoming the intellectual king of the sustainable development hill. First came Bjorn Lomborg. Then Paul Sabin. And now Bill Gates.”

Julian Simon, with his revolutionary theory of “the ultimate resource,” was far outside of the mainstream of sustainable development thought in his lifetime. But Simon’s marketing prowess and business acumen went to work, culminating in the most famous bet in the history of economics against Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren, et al. on the future scarcity of mineral resources in a more populated world.

Such is the subject of a recent book by Yale history professor Paul Sabin, titled The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future, which was reviewed by Bill Gates (see below).

Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, take note. Look who is in the mainstream now! Julian Simon, step by step, is becoming the intellectual king of the sustainable development hill. First came Bjorn Lomborg. Then Paul Sabin. And now Bill Gates.

Here is Bill Gates’s book review of The Bet from late last year. [Read more →]

August 7, 2014   7 Comments

“More People, Greater Wealth, More Resources, Healthier Environment” (Part II: Julian Simon 1994 essay)

“The most important benefit of population size and growth is the increase it brings to the stock of useful knowledge. Minds matter economically as much as, or more than, hands or mouths. Progress is limited largely by the availability of trained workers. The more people who enter our population by birth or immigration, the faster will be the rate of progress of our material and cultural civilization.”

Population and Progress

With respect to population growth: A dozen competent statistical studies, starting in 1967 with an analysis by Nobel prizewinner Simon Kuznets, agree that there is no negative statistical relationship between economic growth and population growth. There is strong reason to believe that more people have a positive effect in the long run.

Population growth does not lower the standard of living – all the evidence agrees. And the evidence supports the view that population growth raises it in the long run.

Incidentally, it was those statistical studies that converted me in about 1968 from working in favor of population control to the point of view that I hold today. I certainly did not come to my current view for any political or religious or ideological reason.

The basic method is to gather data on each country’s rate of population growth and its rate of economic growth, and then to examine whether — looking at all the data in the sample together — the countries with high population growth rates have economic growth rates lower than average, and countries with low population growth rates have economic growth rates higher than average.

All the studies agree in concluding that this is not so; there is no  correlation between economic growth and population growth in the intermediate run. [Read more →]

July 25, 2014   No Comments

“More People, Greater Wealth, More Resources, Healthier Environment” (Part I: 1994 Julian Simon essay reprinted)

“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, and the brakes are a) our lack of imagination, and b) 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 benefit, and so inevitably they will benefit not only themselves but the rest of us as well.”

- Julian L. Simon, essay of February 28, 1994 (below).

This is the economic history of humanity in a nutshell: From 2 million or 200,000 or 20,000 or 2,000 years ago until the 18th Century, there was slow growth in population, almost no increase in health or decrease in mortality, slow growth in the availability of natural resources (but not increased scarcity), increase in wealth for a few, and mixed effects on the environment.

Since then there has been rapid growth in population due to spectacular decreases in the death rate, rapid growth in resources, widespread increases in wealth, and an unprecedented clean and beautiful living environment in many parts of the world along with a degraded environment in the poor and socialist parts of the world.

That is, more people and more wealth has correlated with more (rather than less) resources and a cleaner environment – just the opposite of what Malthusian theory leads one to believe. [Read more →]

July 24, 2014   No Comments

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.

[Read more →]

July 14, 2014   1 Comment

$10,000 Bet on Climate Change: Asking the Wrong Question

“[Christopher Keating] rigged the bet. Compare it with the old-West poker player who stacks the deck, marks the cards, seats his opponents so he can see their hands in mirrors, and hides a few aces up his sleeve.”

Physicist offers $10,000 to anyone who can disprove ‘man-made global climate change’”, the headline at Daily Kos (June 22, 2014) proclaimed. “Climate change deniers using same methods as tobacco industry, says physicist.”

Wow! It’s put-up or shut-up time for climate skeptics like us at the Cornwall Alliance, right? Ten grand ripe for the picking!

All we have to do is lay out our proof and collect the dough. And if we don’t? Well, obviously we’re admitting we don’t dare put our arguments to the test.

But there’s a whole lot less here than it appears. [Read more →]

June 26, 2014   11 Comments

“Happy Earth Day” (Julian Simon 25th anniversary essay speaks to us today)

“[It] is very frustrating that after 25 years of the anti-pessimists being proven entirely right, and the doomsayers being proven entirely wrong, their credibility and influence waxes ever greater. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is every scientific reason to be joyful about the trends in the condition of the Earth, and hopeful for humanity’s future, even if we are falsely told the outlook is grim. So Happy Earth Day.”

[Editor note: This post reprints the Earth Day 1995 essay of Julian Simon, "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.

Every ill was the result of too many people in the U. S. and abroad. The remedy doomsayers urged was government-coerced birth control, abroad and even at home. [Read more →]

April 22, 2014   4 Comments

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