Monday, February 16, 2009

Julian Simon vs. President Obama's Science Man

Click to enlarge.

Data are from Global Financial Data.

In 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra who predicted calamitous food shortages by 1990, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon. When Ehrlich predicted the imminent exhaustion of many nonrenewable natural resources, Simon challenged him: Pick a "basket" of any five such commodities, and I will wager that in a decade the price of the basket will decline, indicating decreased scarcity. Ehrlich picked five metals -- chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten -- that he predicted would become more expensive. Not only did the price of the basket decline, the price of all five declined (see chart above, all prices are in 2000 dollars, data from Global Financial Data).

An expert Ehrlich consulted in picking the five was John Holdren, who today is President Obama's science adviser.

~George Will's column today

MP: Julian Simon wanted to enter into a second wager with Ehrlich, based on either the same commodities, or a different group of commodities, but the terms of a proposed second wager were never agreed upon. Simon died in February 1998.

Q: What if the original bet had been extended for another ten-year period, from 1990-2000? Simon would have won again (see chart above), since all of the metals declined in real price except for tungsten (which increased by 51.97%), and the average price decline of the 5-commodity group was -21.56%.


At 2/16/2009 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work ... After eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started ... And an enormous debt to boot!
Henry Morgenthau
Treasury Secretary under FDR, after 2 terms of FDR's "New Deal".

Dave Johnson
Sacramento CA

At 2/16/2009 11:26 PM, Blogger Buce said...

$100(1-.02156^10 =$8.62. Is that the price you are predicting for a $100 basket in 3000 AD? And when do you expect the supply to go to infinity?

At 2/16/2009 11:27 PM, Blogger Buce said...

(Corrected) $100(1-.02156)^10 =$8.62. Is that the price you are predicting for a $100 basket in 3000 AD? And when do you expect the supply to go to infinity?

At 2/17/2009 1:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't think that contention is being made, but keep in mind that is $8.62 in "year 2000 dollars," i.e. not accounting for inflation. A price in 3000 AD of $8.62 "year 2000 dollars" doesn't seem, in particular, ridiculous (or necessarily not-ridiculous). It's just what the math says.

I don't think data exists for a 1000-year period of general economic freedom for any good. I would resist applying math out to unreasonably large domains like that without data.

At 2/17/2009 6:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And this is the best Obama could come up with: a guy with a track record of being a looser. God protect the USA, because its president will not.

At 2/17/2009 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ironic that a "winner" like yourself can't spell the word loser.

At 2/17/2009 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julian Simon's book "Hoodwinking the Nation" covers this story. His book is kept in a special section of the library in Chicago. It can only be checked out for 7 days and not renewed.

At 2/17/2009 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra..."

Shouldn't that be anti-Cassandra?

At 2/17/2009 10:09 AM, Blogger Jack Miller said...

Bruce does not seem to appreciate that commodities ultimately become virtually worthless, like the flint arrow that was once a matter of life and death. The vacuum tube consumed perhaps a billion times the raw materials as the latest transistor. Keeping horse flesh around is now only an expensive hobby, not a necessity. Newspaper and copper are both in a phase of steady declining usage. The planet earth will never run out of oil because at some point we will cease using large quantities.

At 2/17/2009 12:51 PM, Blogger fboness said...

"Ironic that a "winner" like yourself can't spell the word loser."

I think you use anonymous because you can't spell your own name. Just use "X" We will understand.

At 2/17/2009 2:24 PM, Blogger QT said...

Is it any wonder that Ehrlich with a PhD in entomology did not win a bet about pricing with Simon, who had a PhD in business economics?


Good one. Nice to meet a fellow classicist.

At 2/17/2009 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did your mother name you "fboness" or is that the EXACT SAME THING AS BEING ANONYMOUS?

Sadly ironic that you are as idiotic as Freddy.

At 2/17/2009 9:34 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

BTW, I appear to have encountered the genesis of Will's piece

> After eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started

How much was that "enormous" debt, anyway? :oD

Buce blathered:
> And when do you expect the supply to go to infinity?

OK, Buce, you win the "ignorant comment of the day" award.

1) You need to actually understand economics in order to make a semi-intelligent comment on it.
2) You make the same overall reasoning flaw as Ehrlich, which Simon demonstrated with the bet. See below since you can't be bothered to take the time to actually look into Simon. I'll do it for others so that they can grasp how smart Simon was.
3) Perhaps next time you'll actually bother to learn something about the arguments being made instead of demonstrating the vast extent of your ignorance. Ys, this is another viewpoint of "1" above.


Now, as to Julian Simon's overall point, it was briefly touched on by Jack Miller -- As prices rise, humans find substitutes.

As all the trees in England get chopped down, they start using coal instead. As whales start to get harder to find, they start using petroleum instead. As copper wiring gets expensive, they start using optical fiber in its place.

Central to Simon's overall thesis is the fact that, at the heart of technology lies human ingenuity and understanding of how the world works. As the latter develops, and as the former gets relentlessly applied to problems -- including ones like "This material we use a lot is getting scarce and expensive" -- workable solutions are found.

Yes, it may well be at some point that we encounter an unsurmountable problem that dooms us all.

But that's not the way to bet.

Because, frankly, I believe that the only such problem that there is is one which hits us hard and fast and knocks us down before we can actually set our minds to attacking the problem.

All other problems are limited only by how ingenious we can be given time, and that's one "supply" that's been demonstrated to be pretty damned close to infinity.

So the argument about the price 1000 years from now isn't that the supply will go to infinity, but that our need for it will, over time, tend towards zero.

Paul Ehrlich is a moron on every level. He hasn't made a single prediction which has been correct, yet, his popularity is undiminished, since he appeals to the doom and gloom element of libtards, all desperate, to somehow make themselves important by showing that the entire world ready to go to hell in a handbasket unless THEY step in and SAVE US ALL. This is the real basis behind the Global Warming Religion:

"The world is DOOMED unless WE do something, and quickly!!"

It's like they have some stupid fifties Sci-Fi thriller on permanent loop in their heads, with them and their co-believers as The Heroes.

According to Ehrlich:
"The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines . . . hundreds of millions of people (including Americans) are going to starve to death." (1968)
"Smog disasters" in 1973 might kill 200,000 people in New York and Los Angeles. (1969)
"I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." (1969)
"Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity . . . in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion." (1976)

And, disgustingly enough, it's made him wealthy, too:
"In one year - 1990 - he published a sequel to 'Bomb' called 'The Population Explosion,' received the MacArthur Foundation's famous 'genius award' with a $345,000 check, and split a Swedish Royal Academy of Science prize worth $120,000."

In the reality, we see the overall problem with ALL of those who want to set themselves up as "social planners" -- they continually ignore the actual facts about human behavior in their theses, in favor of some idealistic twaddle usually centered around extending some trend line without regards to other external factors which influence that trend. Population gets extended like humans were stupid, idiotic sheep with no capacity for self-limitation.

So the population, according to Ehrlich and his pals, is going to be 20 billion by 2025, with the oceans dead or dying, and mankind reduced to cannibalism to survive.

The reality is more circumspect -- the population should peak around that time at 8.5 billion and be on the decline, from non-catastrophic causes.

But bureaucrats LOVE people like Ehrlich, too. Not only do they appeal to that arrogant "WE must be the ones to SAVE ALL THE WORLD" bullshit, they also call for draconian measures as the only way to "solve" their irrational and stupid problem.

And, as anyone knows -- the fastest way to a bureaucrat's heart isn't through his stomach -- or even his pocketbook. It's by offering them power...


> Did your mother name you "fboness" or is that the EXACT SAME THING AS BEING ANONYMOUS?

Not really, there are at least two people who post here as "Anonymous". From the comments, one's a complete idiot, the other actually has a brain. For the most part, "anonymous" is a lousy choice, since it's basically, at best, laziness. OTOH, if you bothered to enter a name, there is little-to-no chance of confusion since most people won't deliberately attempt to confuse people by choosing a similar or identical name.

So NO, "fboness" is NOT the "SAME" as "anonymous".

While it's possible for someone to "swipe" "OBloodyHell" and mis-represent themselves as me, it's not that likely. The same is true for "fboness" as well, particularly since they've registered it with blogger as a nick.

Your claim is like most of those blathered by the stupider "anonymous" (which is why I assume that it's You, Anonymouse, and not the intelligent, if lazy, user of that name)

In short, the claim is incorrect, inarguably stupid, and pretty much worthless.


As a final note:
Julian Simon's Website

At 2/17/2009 11:58 PM, Blogger QT said...


Unfortunately, most people are not really aware of the activities of the Club of Rome or its founder, Alexander King. The population bomb and the Limits to Growth have become part of popular mythology just as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

When one actually perceives the full extent of the erroneousness of these ideas and the propagandist nature of these works, the event is seismic. From my own experience, it quite literally shook my beliefs to the core. It is important that one read these works even when they are distasteful to understand the full danger of such propaganda to democracy.

You have looked at Ehrlich's predictions critically but most people do not. Unfortunately, many intelligent people fail to question what they read, to check its accuracy or to test its assertions against reality.

All too often, we assess the message on the basis of our attitude toward the speaker. Do we trust him/her? When we are asked to trust a speaker rather than critically evaluate the ideas, a little bell should go off.

Knowledge should not depend upon trust. Claims should be supported by evidence/proofs. We should not be asked to trust the speaker based upon his being a "good guy" and if that is the message, we need to look more critically at the swamp land.

As Reagan used to say "Trust but verify".

At 2/18/2009 1:42 AM, Blogger bob wright said...

the victims who trusted Madoff should have verified his claims rather than believing his line of "Trust me, I know things no on else does. Invest with me becasue I'm offering you a chance to belong to a very exclusive club that only a certain few are invited to join."

There has always been snake oil salesmen and unfortuneately, there always will be.

In the same vein, I can hear Al Gore saying now: "Buy my magic elixer. It'll cure whatever ails you. I know things no else knows. Trust me. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

At 2/18/2009 10:37 AM, Blogger QT said...


Good point. Having bought a timeshare in Mexico that I can neither rent nor sell, can certainly agree that there are a great many smooth tongued charmers out there.

When you are not allowed to think about something but must decide today, you are about to be fleeced big time. If you can't consult your lawyer on an agreement, there's a problem.

Make a great subject for a book.

At 2/18/2009 3:17 PM, Blogger PhloydPink said...

Just because the cost of these commodities has been externalized in the form of environmental damage does not mean the items are less expensive. It just means that their true cost has been calculated incorrectly.

At 2/18/2009 3:55 PM, Blogger Jack Miller said...

No! Absolutely wrong! The environment has not been damaged by the law of substitution but it has been improved. Which is more environmentally friendly, leaching copper or producing glass fiber? Which is better, cutting trees for firewood, burning dirty coal, burning natural gas or nuclear power? Millions of tons of steel are no longer needed because carbon fibers are replacing steel. A couple of hundred years ago, air in cities was extremely dirty. We need to continue to do better but we are doing better!

At 2/19/2009 1:38 AM, Blogger Klockarman said...

"More people, and increased income, cause resources to become more scarce in the short run. Heightened scarcity causes prices to rise. The higher prices present opportunity, and prompt inventors and entrepreneurs to search for solutions. Many fail in the search, at cost to themselves. But in a free society, solutions are eventually found. And in the long run the new developments leave us better off than if the problems had not arisen. That is, prices eventually become lower than before the increased scarcity occurred."

-Julian Simon
The Ultimate Resource II

I'm not a professional economist, but reading economics books is kind of a hobby for me. I think that the above quote is probably one of the best quotations to explain economics (and his ideas) that there is.

At 2/19/2009 10:48 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> You have looked at Ehrlich's predictions critically but most people do not.

This is an indictment of our educational system, which no longer encourages anything of the sort from their pupils. To do so would be to discourage "free expression" and might hurt someone's "self esteem".

I'm put in mind of a kid who wrote a fanciful Sci-fi tract for our 9th Grade science class. I think the other kids were pretty cruel to him in how they made fun of it -- but the fact is, his science was ludicrous. If he had any future as a writer, it wasn't as an SF writer, unless he did a lot better at the science. And so he got a very good message: "write something other than SF, or learn more science." Better he learn that lesson early than after he's spent years writing a novel he hopes to sell.

In general, we need to encourage more critical thinking on the part of everyone. The fact that so few grasp how irrelevant "consensus" is to Anthropogenic Global Warming as a theory (even if consensus existed, which, of course, it doesn't) is significant to man's future in a technological age.

At 2/19/2009 11:32 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> It just means that their true cost has been calculated incorrectly.

Which doesn't necessarily mean that the conclusion is wrong, either. Just so you grasp that.

The first flaw is presuming that it has to be us causing this issue, and not external factors (such as, oh, "the sun") which are well beyond our control.

The second flaw is assuming that it is not easier (i.e., "far less expensive") to adapt to the problems which result rather than to attempt to invert the process even if it turns out to be something we have a measure of control over. There are plenty of arguments to the effect that building things like sea walls would be less expensive than carbon limiting and sequestering.

One thing to grasp about any potential damage from 'global warming' is that, unlike "arbitrary chemicals" man may produce, there are natural mechanisms for dealing with it -- it's rather obviously clear that the temperature ranges likely to occur as a result of what we are (theoretically) doing are fully within the natural variance range of the earth itself. So, as an environmental problem, it's not anything that will doom the earth, regardless of cause.

At 2/20/2009 10:58 AM, Blogger Jack Miller said...

The microbes on the planet earth that perform specific functions, such as converting hot water into cool water while storing excess hydrogen and converting carbon dioxide into natural gas are counted by the nonillion (10 ^ 30th power). Yet many of these were not discovered until after 2003. We have no idea exactly what some of them do. However, it is clear that if the planet needed to add another zero to the quantity it would. The planet will consume all the carbon dioxide we can produce. Without CO2, life as we know it would cease to exist.

At 2/20/2009 11:39 AM, Blogger Jack Miller said...

The world is so full of a numberf of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as Kings.

Robert Louis Stevenson


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