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Category — Tributes (various)

Remembering Julian Simon (1932–1998)

Editor note: Julian Simon is a primary inspiration for this free-market energy blog, the name of which comes from his characterization of energy as the master resource.

Twelve years ago today came the shocking news: Julian Simon, age 65, had died of heart failure after his regular morning workout in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He had undiagnosed heart disease.

Just two months before, I had visited extensively with Simon when he came Houston to give what would be his last major address, titled: “More People, Greater Wealth, Expanded Resources, Cleaner Environment.” A full house of 200 heard Simon that day, and one in attendance, free-market entrepreneur Gordon Cain, was so impressed that he mailed Simon an unsolicited $25,000 check for research.

Simon invited me to coauthor an energy paper with him for a conference he was planning. This excited me, as did his warm inscription to my first edition copy of The Ultimate Resource. After all, he was the latest major influence on me in a line of thinkers that began with Ayn Rand and had continued with Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek. Not unlike other libertarians, I had gone from individualism-is-cool (Rand’s The Fountainhead) to free-markets-work (Mises’s Human Action) to the-perils-of-government-planning (Hayek, various).

I am not the only one to list Simon alongside other top classical liberal/libertarian scholars. Don Boudreaux, chair 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.

Hayek, in fact, credited Julian Simon for having crystallized the big picture for him and wrote a self-described “fan letter” to him in 1981.

 Dear Professor Simon,

I have never before written a fan letter to a professional colleague, but to discover that you have in your Economics of Population Growth provided the empirical evidence for what with me is the result of a life-time of theoretical speculation, is too exciting an experience not to share it with you. The upshot of my theoretical work has been the conclusion that those traditional rules of conduct (esp. of several property) which led to the greatest increases of the numbers of the groups practicing them leads to their displacing the others — not on “Darwinian” principles but because based on the transmission of learned rules — a concept of evolution which is much older than Darwin.

I doubt whether welfare economics has really much helped you to the right conclusions. I claim as little as you do that population growth as such is good — only that it is the cause of the selection of the morals which guide our individual action. It follows, of course, that our fear of a population explosion is unjustified so long as the local increases are the result of groups being able to feed larger numbers, but may become a severe embarrassment if we start subsidizing the growth of groups unable to feed themselves.

Sincerely, F. A.Hayek

Hayek wrote a second letter upon reading The Ultimate Resource: [Read more →]

February 8, 2010   7 Comments

"Happy Earth Day": Julian Simon's Silver Anniversary (1995) Earth Day Letter

[Ed Note: This letter is available on the Internet and is reproduced here with permission of the Julian Simon family.]

“So how about it, Al [Gore]?  Will you accept the offer?  And how about your boss Bill Clinton, who supports your environmental initiatives?  Can you bring him in for a piece of the action?”


- by Julian L. Simon

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; [Read more →]

April 22, 2009   5 Comments

Challenging Alarmism: John Maddox (1925–2009), RIP

It was nice to see John Tierney in his blog post, The Skeptical Prophet, pay tribute to John Maddox, the scientist and revered long-time editor of Nature. “He debunked the catastrophists, most notably in his 1972 book, The Doomsday Syndrome,” noted Tierney, “in which he argued that Spaceship Earth had more carrying capacity and ecological resilience than environmentalists realized.”

Tierney adds: “His book was denounced at the time by John P. Holdren, who is today the White House science advisor. In a 1972 article in the Times of London, Dr. Holdren and his frequent collaborator, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich, dismissed Dr. Maddox as ‘uninformed’ and clearly unable to understand ‘simple concepts’ of population theory.” Stated Ehrlich/Holdren (as quoted by Tierney): [Read more →]

April 21, 2009   1 Comment