More than 30 years ago, economist Julian Simon made a bet with biologist Paul Ehrlich on the future prices of five metals, asserting that technological change and a booming market would keep the country prosperous. But Ehrlich predicted that rising populations would lead to overconsumption, taxed resources and famine. Paul Sabin analyzes this bet and argues that the opposing perspectives of the bettors - faith in free markets versus fear of environmental exploitation - are at the heart of the battle over climate change that continues today. He discusses the history of these opposing sides and the current status of the debate with Associated Press Energy & Environment Reporter Dina Cappiello.If Paul Ehrlich is paying any attention to this, I suspect that he is yelling at the TV wondering why the subject almost never is turned back to population growth. History suggests that Simon was very lucky (and to his credit Simon admitted it at the time) about the timing of precious metals prices, and Ehrlich should never have gone along with such a narrowly circumscribed wager. Population growth is creating scarcity and scientifically demonstrable environmental damage, yet the discussion about population growth always seems to slip into the shadows and people just want to debate the merits of one or another environmental issue. A classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees.
This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.
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Sunday, September 8, 2013
Betting on the Planet--and Simon Won (or Did He?)
In one of the most famous wagers of all time, Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon bet on the price of several precious metals back in 1980. Ehrlich contended that population growth would put pressure on resources that would raise prices, whereas Simon contended that the threat of scarcity would lead to the substitution of other resources and so prices would not rise. As it turned out, over the ten years of the bet, those particular metals fell in value, rather than rising, despite the rise in population. Ehrlich paid up, as described at the time by John Tierney of the New York Times. The bet has made the news again this month with the publication of new book about it by Paul Sabin of Yale University. Sabin has an Op-Ed piece in yesterday's New York Times, and was also featured yesterday on BookTV, which has the following intro to the hour-long interview: