Julian Simon Remembered (would have been 86 today)

““If environmental alarmists ever wonder why more people haven’t come around to their way of thinking, it isn’t because people like me occasionally voice doubts in newspaper op-eds. It’s because too many past predictions of imminent disaster didn’t come to pass. That isn’t because every alarm is false — many are all too real — but because our Promethean species has shown the will and the wizardry to master the challenge, at least when it’s been given the means to do so.”

– Bret Stephens, “Apocalpyse Not. New York Times, February 8, 2018.

“[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-six 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:

The extent to which the political-social-economic system provides personal freedom from government coercion is a crucial element in the economics of resources and population…. The key elements of such a framework are economic liberty, respect for property, and fair and sensible rules of the market that are enforced equally for all. [4]

The headlines continue to confirm Simon’s worldview about mineral resources. The oil and gas shale boom in the U.S. and around the world have refuted ‘peak oil’ and ‘peak gas’ predictions and worries for the foreseeable future.

In one of his last works, Hoodwinking the Nation, published posthumoulsy, Simon spelled out his worldview:

The message about human betterment and economic progress is more general than any individual statements about raw materials, air, water, life expectancy, education, and the like. There is solid theoretical basis for the idea that that all aspects of human welfare should get better, not just as a matter of coincidence but as part of a broad causal mechanism.

Humanity has necessarily evolved so that we have more of the nature of creators than of destroyers—or else the species would have died out long ago. People seek to improve their conditions, and therefore on balance people build more than they tear down and produce more than they consume. Hence each generation leaves the world a bit better in most respects than it begins with. [5]

May the legacy of Julian Simon continue–and may private-property-based free markets continue to give life to Simon’s optimism.

—————————–

[1] Simon. The Ultimate Resource 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996, p. 181.

[2] Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, p. 82.

[3] Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, p. 11.

[4] Julian Simon, “Introduction,” in Simon, ed., The State of Humanity(Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1995), p. 26.

[5] Julian Simon, Hoodwinking the Nation (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1999), p. 52.

The post Julian Simon Remembered (would have been 86 today) appeared first on Master Resource.

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February 12, 2018 at 01:19AM

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