Julian Lincoln Simon

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Julian Lincoln Simon (February 12, 1932February 8, 1998) was professor of business administration at the University of Maryland and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He wrote many books and articles, mostly on economic subjects. He is best known for his work on population, natural resources, and immigration. His works are often quoted by libertarians and have sometimes been described as cornucopian.

Although Simon had begun researching his theories several years prior, some critics are skeptical of Simon's work due to his later partnership with the Cato Institute. Cato was founded by Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the U.S.. Critics claim that Cato is responsible for spreading misinformation on global warming and other issues detrimental to the oil industry.

His book The Ultimate Resource, later reissued as The Ultimate Resource 2, is a criticism of the conventional wisdom of population growth and resource consumption. In it, Simon challenged the notion of a pending Malthusian catastrophe — that an increase in population has negative economic consequences; that population is a drain on natural resources; and that we stand at risk of running out of resources through over-consumption. His critique was praised by Nobel Laureate economist Friedrich Hayek, but also attracted many critics, such as Paul R. Ehrlich.

A wager between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich was made in 1980 over the price of metals a decade later. Simon had been challenging environmental scientists to the bet for some time. Ehrlich and two other scientists selected a basket of five metals that he thought would rise in price with increasing scarcity and depletion. Simon won the bet, with all five metals dropping in price. Apologists for Ehrlich's position suggest that much of this price drop came because of an oil spike driving prices up in 1980 and a recession driving prices down in 1990, pointing out that the price of the basket of metals actually rose from 1950 to 1975. They also suggest that Ehrlich did not consider the prices of these metals to be critical indicators, and that Ehrlich took the bet with great reluctance. On the other hand, Ehrlich selected the metals to be used himself, and at the time of the bet called it an "astonishing offer" that he was accepting "before other greedy people jump in," hardly suggesting reluctance.

A common claim laid against Simon is that the actual supplies of none of these metals increased during this time period. This misses Simon's point, however. The results of the wager seem to prove Simon's theories in a much more profound way than what might be commonly realized. The price of Tin went down because of an increased use of Aluminum, a much more abundant, useful and inexpensive material. Better mining technologies allowed for the discovery of vast Nickel lodes, which ended the near monopoly that was enjoyed on the market. Tungsten fell due to the rise of the use of ceramics in cookware. The price of Chrome fell due to better smelting techniques. The price of copper began to fall due to the invention of fiber optic cable (which is derived from sand), which serves a number of the functions once reserved only for copper wire. In all of these cases, better technology allowed for either the more efficient use of existing resources, or the replacement of those resources with something more abundant and less expensive. This notion of technology creating limitless resources and potential for growth is at the very heart of Simon's theories. Unfortunately, the theory falls apart for natural resources such as helium, crude oil, and natural gas.

In 1995 Simon issued a challenge for a second bet. Ehrlich refused, and proposed instead that they bet on a metric for human welfare. Ehrlich offered Simon a set of 15 metrics over 10 years, victor to be determined by scientists chosen by the president of the NAS in 2005. There was no meeting of the minds, because Simon felt that too many of the metrics measured attributes of the world not directly related to human welfare, e.g. the amount of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. [1] [2]

Julian Simon wrote in a policy report for the Cato Institute "We have in our hands now - actually in our libraries - the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years."[3] Garrett Hardin addressed this claim in his book The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia. He noted that when Albert A. Bartlett, a physicist at the University of Colorado, tried to test Simon's statement on a desk calculator, it flashed "Error," indicating that, multiplying steadily at 1 percent per year for 7 billion years, the population would soon surpass his calculator's limit of 9.99 x 10^99. Bartlett's calculation assumed exponential population growth, with the population doubling every 43 years. However, the question may be somewhat moot as birth rates are declining in many developed and developing countries. This decline has led UN organizations to predict that global population growth will actually level off somewhere between about 9 billion in 2050 and 11 billion in 2100. Malthusian theories further do not appear to apply to recent life in the modern world because global prices for food have been falling while population levels have been rising.

Simon was one of the founders of free-market environmentalism. An article profiling Julian Simon in Wired magazine inspired Bjørn Lomborg to write the book The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Simon was also the first to suggest that airlines should provide rewards for travelers to give up their seats on overbooked airlines (a practice popularly known as "bumping"), rather than arbitrarily taking certain passengers off the plane. Although the airline industry initally laughed at him, his plan was later implemented with resounding success.

Simon was an omnivorous reader, and took some steps toward writing a memoir, A Life Against the Grain, which was published by his wife after his death.



  • The Economic Consequences of Immigration into the United States
  • Effort, Opportunity, and Wealth: Some Economics of the Human Spirit
  • Good Mood: The New Psychology of Overcoming Depression ISBN 0812690982 (Forewords by Albert Ellis and Kenneth Colby)
  • The Hoodwinking of a Nation ISBN 1560004347
  • A Life Against the Grain: The Autobiography of an Unconventional Economist ISBN 0765805324
  • Scarcity or Abundance? A Debate on the Environment
  • The Philosophy and Practice of Resampling Statistics
  • Resampling: A Better Way to Teach (and Do) Statistics (with Peter C. Bruce)
  • The Science and Art of Thinking Well in Science, Business, the Arts, and Love
  • The Ultimate Resource II ISBN 0691003815
  • Economics of Population: Key Modern Writings ISBN 1852787651
  • It's Getting Better All the Time : 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years by Stephen Moore, Julian Lincoln Simon ISBN 1882577973 manuscript finished posthumously by Stephen Moore


Books critical of Julian Simon

  • Ehrlich, Paul R. Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future, 1996. (ISBN 1-55963-483-9)
  • Grant, Lindsey. Elephants in the Volkswagen, 1992. (ISBN 0-7167-2268-2)
  • Hardin, Garrett. The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia, 1998. (ISBN 0-19-512274-7)

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