The Person at the Center of the Economy

All LIFE is precious, now we have the poof.

The human person is rational, free, social, embodied, good but imperfect, and with eternal destiny. But we are very complex and mysterious. In 1968, biologist Paul Ehrlich published “The Population Bomb,” a best-selling panic manifesto that predicted mass starvation and global catastrophe due to overpopulation.

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” Ehrlich proclaimed. “In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death” and “nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate. ”By 1980, economist Julian Simon had heard enough, and proceeded to propose a wager to test his own competing theory.

Contrary to Ehrlich, Simon saw humans as “the ultimate resource,” believing that more humans would mean more abundance, not less. Ehrlich agreed to Simon’s wager and was joined by ecologist John Harte and scientist John P. Holdren. NPR summarizes the infamous bet as follows:
Simon proposed that they bet on what would happen to the price of five metals — copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten — over a decade. And the logic was that these metals were essential for all kinds of stuff — electronics, cars, buildings. So, if Ehrlich was right, more people on the planet would mean we would start running out of stuff, and the price of these things should go up. But, if Simon was right, the markets and human ingenuity would sort things out, and the prices would stay the same or even go down.Simon won, and his victory was decisive. The population continued to grow, but instead of crumbling under the weight of our own appetites, humans triumphed over scarcity. We learned how to do more with less, driving unprecedented declines in global poverty and hunger. By 1990, Ehrlich quietly admitted defeat in the form of a check for $576.07, written to Simon. Simon’s thesis is still being proven correct, and is formally assessed as part of The Simon Project, whose Simon Abundance Index “measures the relationship between population growth and the abundance of 50 basic commodities, including food, energy, materials, minerals, and metals.”