Is Ehrlich the Least Hansonian Thinker Ever?
By Bryan Caplan
Steve and Paul indulged in this betting foolishness in the first place in the hope of (1) getting Simon to retract his socially dangerous and scientifically ridiculous assertion that all material or environmental welfare trends were positive, (2) getting Simon to contribute $10,000-15,000 to the environmental charities they select in 2005 to receive the winnings, or (3) getting the public to see that Simon blusters and asserts but won’t back up his own rhetoric when seriously challenged. The third outcome was the one obtained.
Bets, of course, are a poor way to settle disputes about the human future, but Paul and his colleagues have been compelled to make two of them in an effort to counter the inaccurate information spread by Simon and others.
In actuality, however, both the original Simon-Ehrlich bet and the rematch show that bets are a great way to make people tone down hyperbolic rhetoric. In a bet-free climate, Ehrlich felt free to loudly predict mass starvation. In a bet-rich climate, he had to settle for predicting things like rising inequality. The horror!