Julian Simon was one of the world's foremost economists and "doom-slayers". In the 1970s and 80s, when such eminent population scientists as Paul R. Ehrlich argued that the world was on a downhill slide into environmental and social disaster, Simon insisted that, on the contrary, things were getting better and better.
Julian Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1932. He graduated from Harvard, and served as a Naval officer before recieving an M.A. in business administration and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Business School. He became professor of business administration at the University of Maryland in 1983, and held that position until his death in 1998. He was a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and a member of the Acton Institute's advisory board. He has also run a mail order firm, and developed the overbooking plan used on all United States airlines since 1978.
Simon argued that resources do not usually become scarce through over use, and that any threat that they could do so simply hastens their replacement by different, often better products. He attacked the Malthusian view that humankind is doomed to starvation and death through overpopulating - by presenting the view that humans were a resource in themselves - more babies means more brains. The greater the population grows - the greater the chance that more innovative ways to feed it will be discovered.
Julian Simon presented his views in a host of books and papers. Possibly the most famous are "The Ultimate Resource" (updated as "The Ultimate Resource 2)" and "The Resourceful Earth".
Environmentalists, population scientists and Malthusians attacked Simon's views, and Simon personally, on all fronts. Paul Ehrlich once stated that Simon had proved that "the one thing the Earth will never run out of is imbeciles". However, Julian Simon brought to his arguments an overwhelming amount of backup in the form of data. As an economist, he was far more at home with statistical analysis than were many of the ecologists with whom he debated. Simon never presented an argument without mathematical and statistical proofs.
Paul Ehrlich was Simon's most famous opponent, and the differences of opinion between them are legend. Many of Ehrlich's doomsaying predictions have not in fact come to pass. He stated in 1980 that he would bet even money that England would not exist in the year 2000. Many of his predictions were to be measured in the year 2004 - we shall have to wait and see. But the most famous vindication of Simon's views was in the form of a bet he proposed to Ehrlich in 1980 - that the price of $1000 worth of metals of Ehrlich's choosing would go down over the next decade - indicating that they had become less scarce, not more so. Ehrlich argued that the metals would become scarcer, hence more expensive, and took the bet. In 1990, the prices were to be adjusted to allow for inflation, and the loser would pay the winner the difference in price. Simon won. Every one of the metals' prices had fallen by at least 40%, and Ehrlich paid Simon $576.06.
Abused and ridiculed for his writings, decades later it is obvious that Julian Simon, for the most part, had a more realistic view of the consequences of population growth than did his opponents. It is a pity that he never received the same recognition that they did.
For recent research into the matter - Bjørn Lomborg's book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" details how he set out to challenge Simon's ideas, and found them to be correct.
I have taken the following lines from the website www.goodbyemag.com:
Shortly before his death, Simon made two predictions for the coming century. The first was that “humanity’s condition will improve in just about every material way.” The second was that “humans will continue to sit around complaining about everything getting worse.”
Acknowledgements:http://www.acton.org/ppolicy/environment/population/simon.html, http://www.richarddnorth.com/rdnjournogreen/simon.htm, http://www.cato.org/pubs/policy_report/cpr-20n2-1.html, http://www.goodbyemag.com/jan98/simon.html "The truth about the environment", Bjorn Lomborg, in The Economist, August 4th 2001.