January 2020

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Julian Simon was an intellectual hero and a role model in his behavior toward junior colleagues. He is indeed dearly missed.

It's funny how things line up in life. I had no idea today was the anniversary of his death, but for some reason I pulled The Ultimate Resource off of the shelf last Thursday, and opened it to this passage:

"A conceptual quantity is not finite or infinite in itself. Rather, it is finite or infinite if you make it so–by your own definitions. If you define the subject of discussion suitably, and sufficiently closely so that it can be counted, then it is finite–for example, the money in your wallet or the socks in your top drawer. But without sufficient definition the subject is not finite–for example, the thoughts in your head, the strength of your wish to go to Turkey, your dog’s love for you, the number of points in a one-inch line. You can, of course, develop definitions that will make these quantities finite, which shows that the finiteness inheres in you and your definitions rather than in the money, love or one-inch line themselves. There is no necessity either in logic or in historical trends to state that the supply of any given resource is “finite,” and to do so leads to error.

Someone coined the label “cornucopians” for those who believe that the natural resources are available in practically limitless abundance, to contrast with “doomsters.” But the stream of thought that I represent here is not cornucopian. I do not suggest that nature is limitlessly bountiful. Rather, I suggest that the possibilities in the world are sufficiently great so that with the present state of knowledge–even without the additional knowledge that human imagination and human enterprise will surely develop in the future–we and our descendants can manipulate the elements in such fashion that we can have all the raw materials that we desire at prices ever smaller relative to other goods and to our total incomes. In short, our cornucopia is the human mind and heart, and not a Santa Claus natural environment. So has it been throughout history, and therefore so is it likely to be in the future.”

How positive and inspiring.

"his boundless optimism for humanity's future makes for a wonderful contrast to not just the doom-and-gloom of the environmentalists"

Yes, it's wonderful how his unwavering optimism shines through in his writings.

Julian Simon made important points at a time when they were not well received, especially at at time when prices of some basic inputs were at a cyclical peak (which they may be again, although many are again arguing that oil prices will permanenty stay high, which is the prediction in the long run of the Hotelling model). I would, however, simply note that Paul Ehrlich was a gentleman for all the talk of "cheap talk," and paid up the $10,000 he owed when he lost the bet.

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