Julian Simon, Optimist and Critic of Env. Pessimism
"The doomsayers of the population-control movement offer a vision of limits, decreasing resources, a
zero-sum game, conservation, deterioration, fear and conflict--concluding with calls for more
government intervention in markets and family affairs. [Shouldn't] our vision be to look optimistically
upon people as a resource rather than a burden--a vision of receding limits, increasing resources and
possibilities, a game in which everyone can win, building, the excitement of progress, and the belief
that persons and firms, acting spontaneously in search of their individual welfare, and regulated only
by rules of a fair game, will produce enough to maintain and increase economic progress and promote
liberty? The energetic efforts of humankind will prevail to increase worldwide our numbers, our
health, our wealth, and our opportunities." 1990
- •People an asset not a liability (human population growth is good for humans, not bad)
- •Positive effect additional people have on productivity by creating and applying new knowledge
- •Tech improvements depend on people, so reasonable to assume that amount of improvement
depends in large part on # of people
- •In developed countries, larger pop, greater # of scientists and larger amount of sci knowledge produced
- •Economies of scale apply to people too (the more people, the easier it is for new
knowledge/technology to be created and this will improve our lives)
- •Human ingenuity will keep doing more with less
- •More people there are, more minds, more discoveries, better off we will be
- •Humans as the "ultimate resource"
- •Self-interest pursuit in a free market, with minimal regulation, will lead to human progress
- •No scarcity of resources (Environmentalists create unjustified hysteria about this)
- •Only meaningful measure of scarcity is economic cost of goods and in most every case the cost of
natural resources has declined throughout human history (relative to income)
- •Conventional wisdom that resources are finite is false
- •Resources are not fixed; people create more resources: food, for example
- •Humans are interested in the services resources provide and human ingenuity and technology can use
natural resources more and more efficiently and find substitutes, thus resources aren't really limited
- •Copper communication wire example: More efficient extraction, expand our area of search (to
the sea and outer space), recycling, improved efficiency--use less and less (matter is infinitely
divisible), find substitutes via new technology
- •Oil as energy source example; more wells, more efficient wells, convert shale, tar, & coal to oil, oil
from plants, power from nuclear and solar sources, move to other suns.
- •Market incentives take care of finding alternatives; scarcity fuels tech advance
- •Scarcity of a resource will lead to price rise which will lead to discovery/creation of substitute (and
- •No need to plan way ahead for when we run out
- •Some worries
- Are humans really are better off with more people (especially at a population over 6 billion)?
- Are nonhumans made better off by more people?
- Why assume economic growth should count as human progress?
- Is Simon's faith in technology to solve resource problems plausible?
- Can Simon address limits in earth's pollution/waste assimilation capacity? Or land space for people?