Reason vs Faith: Julian Simon vs Paul Ehrlich

In 1980, Julian Simon, the recently deceased economist and author of The Ultimate Resource, offered to environmentalists a wager based on his assertion that the price of any raw material would indefinitely decline on a future date. The wager was taken up by Paul Ehrlich, author of the best- selling 1968 book, “The Population Bomb,” which predicted that during the 1970s “the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” These predicted deaths were off by hundreds of millions.

While Simon was proven correct, Ehrlich went on to win a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant — based on his career of fantastic apocalyptic predictions that never came true.

“In October 1980, Ehrilch and Simon drew up a futures contract obligating Simon to sell Ehrlich the same quantities which could be purchased for $1,000 of five metals (copper, chrome, nickel, tin, and tungsten) ten years later as 1980 prices,” writes Ronald Bailey in his book EcoScam. “If the combined prices rose above $1,000, Simon would pay the difference. If they fell below $1,000, Ehrlich would pay Simon. Ehrlich mailed Simon a check for $576.07 in October 1990.” During the 1980s the combined prices of the metals selected by Ehrlich declined by over 50 percent. Simon easily won because he knew that the supply for resources was not becoming more scarce but more abundant, since the economic history of predominantly free capitalist nations had demonstrated how the prices of most major commodities have declined over time.

While Simon was proven correct, Ehrlich went on to win a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant — based on his career of fantastic apocalyptic predictions that never came true. In 1990, Ehrlich and his wife shamelessly published “The Population Explosion,” another book predicting that “human numbers are on a collision course with massive famines.” Simon’s work has influenced people to challenge the corruptions of such environmentalist doomsayers; nevertheless, the rehashed, dispelled arguments of Ehrlich and his ilk prevail in many American minds. How can this happen?

Environmentalist doomsayers are a logical outgrowth of religious apocalyptics, and their believers are just another sect of mystics.

The explanation can be partly attributed to the reversion in our culture to various forms of supernaturalism. Increasingly people are professing faith not only in God but in New Age mystics, psychics, faith healers, astrologers. That is, our culture is increasingly dispensing with objective reality and reason, for faith in alleged supernatural, paranormal phenomena, i.e., in the absurd. And, at root, environmentalism is a pseudo-science that must therefore engender faith. “Americans of all faiths increasingly are looking at the environment through a spiritual lens,” reports Caryle Murphy of the Washington Post. “For them, ‘care for creation’ is much more than preserving wildlife and pristine scenery. It is a religious mandate.” (Washington Post 2/8/97) Ultimately, then, environmentalist doomsayers are a logical outgrowth of religious apocalyptics, and their believers are just another sect of mystics.