A Free-Market Energy Blog

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

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 14, 2014

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.

“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.”

– Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, 581.

“Human beings create more than they destroy.”

– Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, 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,” The State of Humanity, 27.

Master Resource

Energy, to Simon, was 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. . . .

For example, low energy costs would enable people to create enormous quantities of useful land. The cost of energy is the prime reason that water desalination now is too expensive for general use; reduction in energy cost would make water desalination feasible, and irrigated farming would follow in many areas that are now deserts. And if energy were much cheaper, it would be feasible to transport sweet water from areas of surplus to arid areas far away.

Another example: If energy costs were low enough, all kinds of raw materials could be mined from the sea.”

– Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, 162.

There is much more in the Julian Simon repertoire at MasterResource.

5 Comments


  1. Charles Battig, M.D.  

    Julian’s writings covered not only his optimistic view of the resourcefulness of mankind in the aggregate, but also his personal insights into why his message was so bitterly resisted.
    His last book, “Hoodwinking the Nation” (1999) at 140 pages is a gem of analysis of why people/the press/and politicians persist in believing “false bad news” as he termed it, in spite of facts to the contrary.
    I treasure his wisdom (and sharing of his disappointments) therein as a guide to understanding how to frame effective communication for audiences on climate (and other) issues. The book is a virtual textbook describing the psychology of mass thought control by the media and political bureaucracy.
    The ten chapter headings alone in this diary-like book give insights true in 1998 and still true today.
    Examples: “What do Americans wrongly believe about Environment, Resources, and Population?”
    “Personal knowledge versus media-shaped opinions,”
    “Damn lies , statistics, and doomsday,” and
    “Why do we hear prophecies of doom from every side?”

    Thank you Julian.

    Reply

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