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Pierre Desrochers: 2017 Julian Simon Award Remarks

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- August 31, 2017

Editor Note: Earlier this summer,  Pierre Desrochers received the 2017 Julian L. Simon Memorial Award at the annual dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. For the community of scholars, it was a great choice. “Dr. Desrochers has carried the torch for Julian Simon’s legacy for more than two decades,” noted CEI President Kent Lassman. “His defense of modern large-scale agriculture and critique of the concept of ‘food miles,’ in The Locavore’s Dilemma informs any reasoned discussion on how to improve the health and wealth of people everywhere.”

Professor Desrochers extemporaneous remarks have been revised for publication.

Thank you all and particularly to CEI for this award.

Those of us in the tradition of Julian Simon try to produce work that is based on logic and facts and come up with a compelling narrative. Sadly, we are resigned to having virtually no impact on our environmental studies colleagues. So I’m especially grateful for the recognition tonight.

Another reason why this award is so meaningful is that although I never had the opportunity to meet him, Julian Simon’s writings made him a real role model and mentor to me.

Some History

One of the things I’m doing at the moment is rewriting some of the history of the modern environmental movement. According to the conventional narrative, Rachel Carson came along and DDT was banned. The Population Bomb was published in 1968 and the greatest generation awoke to a new peril and a new reason for regulation.

In reality the overpopulation scare that occupied Simon for most of his active academic life was reborn right after World War II when a number of eugenicists and their organization needed a new purpose.

After World War II, with Auschwitz ending eugenics, there was a void. What was a eugenicist to do? Are you just going to say, “Well, sorry, we were wrong and we move on.”? Well, no, what they did was to reinvent their mission around this cause of overpopulation.

What a lot of people don’t realize today is that as early as the 1950s the consensus was that there were too many people. New medications and new pesticides were too effective; the world population was getting out of control. As they saw it, there was really no charity in saving people from dying from Malaria if they were to die a more horrible death of starvation or running out of resources a few decades later.

By the 1950s, and certainly the 1960s, when Julian Simon became interested in those issues, the consensus was extremely pessimistic. Government and foundation money poured in, and many academics found a lucrative career path doing this sort of environmental advocacy.

Change of Heart

Julian Simon, meanwhile, a professor of marketing, thought he could contribute to a better world by marketing population control measures in less advanced economies.

But unlike most people who buy into a consensus, Simon kept an open mind and was paying attention to the evidence. And he increasingly came to question his belief. His ‘road to Damascus’ came in Spring 1969 when, not too far from here, he was on his way to a USAID office to get a grant and further his career.

But as he later recounted, he saw a sign to the Iwo Jima Memorial that reminded him of the eulogy of a Jewish chaplain who had asked how many potential Mozarts, Michelangelos and Einsteins had been buried there.

(I don’t know if this was just a coincidence, but I was born in the Spring of 1969 when Simon had his epiphany.  Maybe that’s why I always remember that it was in the spring 1969.)

From then on, Simon’s academic career took a path in which he pursued the truth as he saw it. And, of course, he would never again receive large government grants and ended up teaching large service courses in a public university – just like me. Furthermore, the first time I read the quotation, “Academic politics are so vicious because the issues are so small,” was in one of Julian Simon’s writings. So all I will say is that he prepared me well for my career.

So, anyway, you read those people in the 1960s and you wonder “Was the world completely mad? How could a consensus of seemingly smart people believe these things?” And then you learn that two years ago, Paul Ehrlich–who was Simon’s main intellectual opponent – is still saying that things are so bad now that we will have to revert to cannibalism soon.

You may know Ehrlich won more than a million dollars of prize money in the 1990s. He’s still publishing in the most prestigious biology journals on the Sixth Extinction–which should have occurred in the early 1990s if you look at his early writings.

Anyway, thank you for this award. Thanks for helping to make this the good fight. I want to keep on fighting in the Julian Simon tradition. We have truth on our side, and one day we will prevail.


About Pierre Desrochers

Professor Desrochers is Interim Director, Institute for Management and Innovation at the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

Desrochers (full biography here) has received other awards from the Houston Advanced Research Center, Property and Environment Research Center, Atlas Foundation, and Society for the Development of Austrian Economics.

He has published more than 200 op-eds and columns in, among other outlets, The AmericanTech Central StationPERC ReportsIdeas on LibertySalonThe Daily BeastSpiked!The Globe and Mail, the National PostReader’s Digest (Canada), L’AGEFI, LeMonde.fr as well as publishing numerous research papers and scholarly articles.



One Comment for “Pierre Desrochers: 2017 Julian Simon Award Remarks”

  1. Tributes in the Energy and Climate Debate (Part II) - Master Resource  

    […] development (energy, food, technology, and economic development). The most recent recipient of the Julian Simon award, Desrochers is a worldview thinker (along with Indur Goklany, profiled […]


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