Julian Simon and Wired Slay the Doomsters

Close readers of the Historical Perspective section will have noted previous Historical Perspectives based on the work of Julian Simon. Mr. Simon, a professor at the University of Maryland, is probably the preeminent academic whose work features a positive world view. His book, "The State of Humanity," has been the source of several Historical Perspectives. We have also featured articles found in Wired magazine, a publication which appears to have a decidedly optimistic outlook on the future. This month's historical perspective features a story about Julian Simon written by Ed Regis and published in the February issue of Wired.

While "The State of Humanity" features topic-specific essays by various academics on matters such as childhood mortality, nutrition, and housing, the Wired article gives a good overview of Simon's views for the general reader, especially in regards to overpopulation and the environment.

Speaking of the historical trends, Simon says "Our species is better off in just about every measurable way. Just about every important measure of human material welfare shows improvement over the decades and the centuries, in the United States and the rest of the world." This is a good summary of Simon's point of view. More specifically, he says that both air and water is getting cleaner, not dirtier, and, in general, the trend is for the physical environment to improve, despite what you hear about the imminent collapse of the global ecosystem. And despite all the talk about the rape of the rain forests, Simon says that in general the world is being reforested, not deforested.

Simon also believes that overpopulation is a myth. He points to the fact that while the U.S. population has grown from 5 million to over 225 million from 1800 to 1980, the price of wheat dropped dramatically, rather than increasing as the population grew. While it is true that the world's population has been growing dramatically, it is not true that such growth is outstripping food production. In fact, while the news-media focus on famines in third world countries, the reality is that food supplies per person in developing countries have increased 25 percent since 1960. Farmland currently available but unused in the US and Argentina could feed another 1.4 billion people.

Simon, who bases his work on publicly accepted and documented source material, rather than the theories and computer models of the doomsters, sites a number of other contrarian, but upbeat, facts:

  • While many perceive that air pollution is getting worse, the fact is that since 1970, particulates in the air have dropped by two-thirds.
  • Others say that the world is running out of oil -- the fact is that known crude oil reserves increased by 50% from 1980 to 1990.
  • While many are concerned that the oceans of the world are being depleted by over-fishing, Simon contends that seafood production could triple indefinitely into the future.

Most important of all is that while Simon's views are optimistic, they are based on hard evidence, not wishful thinking. In fact, he won a bet with well-known doomster Paul Ehrlich regarding the scarcity of natural resources. While the doomsters get all the media attention, they are almost always wrong. (In his famous book, "The End of Affluence," Ehrlich predicted the death by starvation of a billion or more people, no later than the 1980s.)

What does Simon predict for the future? "The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards."

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