The Gist of Julian Simon
By David Henderson
In a comment on Bryan Caplan’s post today, Steve asks:
Could someone please provide a distillation of Simon’s work? The link is to his website, where all I can find is a list of published papers.
I gave such a distillation in my tribute to Simon (http://www.davidrhenderson.com/articles/0698_inmemoriamjuliansimon.html) in June 1998, four months after his death. One important thought, which he never claimed as original with him, but that he did more than anyone else to popularize, is that as population grew, resource prices would fall, not rise. As I said in the article:
But Simon saw humans as fundamentally different from animals. He liked to quote the 19th-century American economist Henry George: “Both the jayhawk and the man eat chickens, but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens.”
In Scarcity and Growth, a 1963 book financed by Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C., think tank devoted to the study of natural resources, the economists Harold J. Barnett and Chandler Morse showed that between 1890 and 1957, costs per unit of mineral output declined “rapidly and persistently.” This trend, they noted, fundamentally contradicted the Malthusian hypothesis of increased scarcity. Simon referred to Scarcity and Growth as “the great book which was my tutor.” Simon made it his mission to popularize the findings of its authors so that people could see an alternative to the views of alarmists like Mr. Ehrlich.
Simon is still famous for his wager with Paul Ehrlich, a wager that he won. I tell the details in http://www.davidrhenderson.com/articles/0698_inmemoriamjuliansimon.html .