Julian Simon remains an inspiration to me in so many different ways, not the least of which was his unbounded optimism about humanity. A week from tomorrow (Feb 8, the day after my 44th birthday I might note) is the 10th anniversary of his death - a death that took a great mind and a great man from us far too soon.
His contributions to our understanding of freedom aside, he was a real mensch. Pete can verify the experience we (along with Dave P.) had spending 45 minutes chatting with Julian on a boat on the way to St. Tropez during the 1994 Mont Pelerin meetings. Here were three young punks who probably didn't deserve the time of day striking up a conversation with him. He could have easily found an excuse to duck away, but he didn't. We stood near the stern of that boat and he talked with us for quite a bit of that boat ride. To this day, I appreciate that he treated us like colleagues, not the punks that we were, and the memory of that conversation, in the middle of the Mediterranean on a gorgeous day, remains a treasured one.
It is traditional in Judaism to remember the death of a loved one on the anniversary of that person's death. I'm a bit early with it, but as I'm reading his posthumous The Great Breakthrough and Its Causes and came across this quote that so nicely summarizes his worldview, I decided to go ahead with it anyway. Here's Julian being Julian:
Humans have evolved into creators and problem solvers to an extent that people's constructive behavior now outweighs their destructive behavior, as evidenced by our increasing life expectancy and richness of consumption. And in recent centuries and decades, the positive net balance of each generation has been increasing rather than decreasing. This view of the human as builder conflicts with the view of the human as destroyer, the latter a view that underlies the thought of many other writers on the subject.
Rest in peace Julian.