I Miss Julian Simon

by Don Boudreaux on May 5, 2011

in Myths and Fallacies, Population, Standard of Living

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

In today’s “Room for Debate” you ask “Can the Planet Support 10 Billion People?“  The consensus of the panel you assembled to discuss this question is ‘No the planet cannot, at least not without major changes in the way we live.’  Given this consensus, I gather that the point of your photo of a crowded thoroughfare in Lagos – a photo captioned “Lagos, Nigeria, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world” – is to depict the sort of misery (and downright ugliness of our planet) that awaits us if we don’t rein in population growth pronto.

Lagos is indeed densely populated, with about 20,170 persons per square mile.  And Nigeria is indeed poor, with a per-capita annual income of about $2,800.  (I can find no statistic on the annual per-capita income of residents of Lagos.  So let’s assume, generously, that annual per-capita income in Lagos is $5,600, or double what it is for Nigeria as a whole.)

Contrary to the wisdom of crowds, however, population density isn’t destiny.

Monaco, with a per-capita annual income of about $33,100 (more than six times that of Lagos), has a population density of 43,830 – more than double that of Lagos.  Or consider Macau, with its per-capita annual income of $33,000: Macau’s population density is the highest of any country in the world at 48,000 person per square mile; it is 138 percent more densely populated than is Lagos.  Yet Macau’s per-capita annual income, like that of Monaco, is almost six times higher than that of Lagos.

Popular discourse is overcrowded with factually and theoretically impoverished claims about the relationship between population and standards of living.


Donald J. Boudreaux

Or is the problem that the sages at the NYT foresee one of dark and swarthy peoples especially being, well, you know, too numerous?  (HT Mary Anastasia O’Grady)

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Daniel Kuehn May 5, 2011 at 2:28 pm

The commentary on that last link was a cheap shot – I gotta say it.

This was an interesting line, though: “No the planet cannot, at least not without major changes in the way we live”

Really, that point is right – and it’s Julian Simon’s point too. The point is a lot of trends (population growth, for example) DO require major changes in the way we live, but the best tool for making the necessary changes to the way we live is that price mechanism, which orchestrates these changes in a way that maximizes the efficiency of the use of scarce resources.

We may disagree on specific points where the market may be less successful – like externalities of climate change – but Julian Simon’s point, which we agree on, is precisely that major changes do have to occur sometimes, and the market is the most reliable vehicle for making those changes.

Don Boudreaux May 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm

A cheap shot? Really? Then why does the NYT single out Africa as being on the verge of a terrible population problem? The NY Sun is correct to criticize the NYT on this matter.

As for “major changes,” yes – as you say. But such market-directed changes of the sort that Julian Simon, myself, and you (welcome aboard, Daniel!) understand are necessary and natural are clearly NOT the sort of changes that most of the NYT’s panelists have in mind.

And, a small point: if Macau and Monaco are today thriving with more than twice the population density of Lagos, one might question whether ANY changes beyond adopting more market-friendly institutions are necessary for the likes of Lagos.

Daniel Kuehn May 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm

You don’t think it’s more likely that they just are guilty of the same mistake of thinking that overpopulation is a big problem? You really think it’s more likely that what they are guilty of is thinking that there are “too many dark people”?

You are so good at pointing out an overpopulation fallacy at the UN – why not just assume it is also held by the NY Times?

re: “(welcome aboard, Daniel!)”

I’ve been aboard, but thanks for the welcome anyway :)

We’ve disagreed in the past on Simon over whether we can make projections about prices, and over whether there’s going to be “peak oil” from a geological perspective – but to my knowledge we’ve never had different opinions on his point about markets, innovation, and optimism.

kyle8 May 6, 2011 at 12:44 am

I think that Don’s parting shot was spot on. If you look back far enough into the entire Malthusian debates you will see quite a bit of racsism.

In fact nearly everything ever writtten about overpopulation since the end of WW2 is aimed nearly exclusivly at Africa, South America, and southern Asia.

Daniel Kuehn May 5, 2011 at 2:48 pm

And I can’t resist this… in the last Julian Simon scuffle where you said I was putting a positive spin on DeLong, DeLong then turned around and said almost precisely what I was claiming he said about Simon – which was a disagreement with his strong claim about price prediction, but NOT an agreement with Ehrlich. I said he wouldn’t take your bet because he never made the claim you offered to bet against, which is essentially what he ultimately said to you.

Daniel Kuehn May 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Anyway – good response to the UN Panel.

John V May 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Agreed. When many intellectuals make that sort of claim about needing major changes in the way we live, it can have a double meaning. On one side, it can mean what Julian Simon means. On the other, it means some concerted and “wise” (;)) policy effort to plan and ration accordingly. And in the case of the NYT article, I get the impression they mean the latter.

LAD May 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm

One of the things I’ve learned from reading this blog is the importance of reading your opponent’s argument in the best light possible. In the NY Times article referenced, they state that the reason they focused on the population increase in Africa is because the continent is “already struggling to provide food and water for its people.” That’s a reasonable basis for singling out Africa that has nothing to do with racism.

In the spirit of Julian Simon I’ll suggest that hurling epithets is not the answer, gambling is.

John S. May 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I am going to have to agree with Daniel Kuehn on this one. Attributing racist motives to one’s ideological opponents is a favorite trick of leftists. Instead of playing the same tired game, I believe honest people (and I consider you one of them) should strive to delegitimize this type of attack altogether.

gdub May 5, 2011 at 11:25 pm

politics does not involve fair play.

Dan May 5, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Population density of Israel. Amazingly enough, Tawain does quite well at a high pop. Density with little resources.
Might I add that a population of 10 billion is not a guarantee. In more advanced and wealthier nations the birth rate has been declining. Families are smaller. It is quite possible that this trend will continue in regions where the populations (birth rate far exceeds death rate rather than immigration rate) are projected to grow significantly enough to bring the world pop. Rate to 10 billion.
I feel confident enough that as total land usage (inhabited or used to support populations like farming) increases, lowering available supply, the costs will go up, and population control will be obtained by individual behaviors ( use of birth contraceptives ) to maintain a particular standard of living.
Do I really need to go over how most in America and Europe are manipulating their family size?

gdub May 5, 2011 at 11:27 pm

“Do I really need to go over how most in America and Europe are manipulating their family size?”

I would like to know what you mean.

Anotherphil May 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Anybody who is familiar with the queen mother of population control-Margaret Sanger-knows she was a racist misanthrope. Her distaste for swarthy peoples was matched any jackass with a white hood or swastika and she was rather open about whose fecundity she sought to limit. (Interesting-the left’s curiously inconsistent indignity for “hate speech” never extends to their pantheon of accredited prophets-so we never hear about her attitudes) This undercurrent extends to the current crop of leftist “thinkers” and it was just a couple of weeks or so ago, that a lesser member of the GMU faculty’s BFF Ezra Klein wrote about how abortion gets rid of the wrong element.

Its not a cheap shot, its dead on and the EVIDENCE is there for anybody who isn’t selectively filtering it out. You of course have proven that you cry and firmly insert both index fingers in your ear canal whenever anybody challenges your leftist orthodoxies.

By the way, if anybody wants to really see how frequent it is that leftist heroes proclaim their love for humanity as long as “humanity” is merely an abstract rhetorical device, read Paul Johnson’s “Intellectuals”. Karl Marx, the first communist, condemned an “inconvenient life” to death, and his intellectual progeny have followed his example expanding it only in scope and scale.

Daniel Kuehn May 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm


I like Jefferson too, you know.

Anybody citing anyone admirable is going to have to come to terms with the fact that there are likely to be unadmirable facets to them. This is especially true if you are looking at anyone from that long ago. Nobody embraces Jefferson’s slaveholding or Sanger’s racism. If we dropped abandoned every idea that every imperfect person ever thought we’d have no ideas left and we’d be a bunch of misanthropes. That seems dumb to me.

Seems better to me to note what we like and what we don’t like and be of the opinion that humans are frail creatures.

Anotherphil May 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Congratulations on proving my point about selective indignity.

Daniel Kuehn May 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Where’s the selectivity though? I’m saying no one should get their panties in a twist because everbody has a dark side particularly as you go back in history and developing a knee-jerk misanthropy doesn’t seem like the healthy or productive way to respond to that blatantly obvious point. You’re the one that has some apparent obsession with leftists – you’re the one being selective.

Methinks1776 May 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Are you kidding, Daniel?

Methinks1776 May 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Daniel, I can only imagine what you would have said if Sanger considered herself a member of the Tea Party.

You’ll deny it now, of course.

Sandre May 6, 2011 at 12:37 am

Daniel says…“verbody has a dark side particularly as you go back in history and developing a knee-jerk misanthropy doesn’t seem like the healthy or productive way to respond to that blatantly obvious point.

Yet, only a couple of days ago, you were going back in history, quoting Mises trying to insinuate that mises had some kind of fascination for fascism, in your own round about way

Methinks1776 May 6, 2011 at 9:40 am


I don’t think that’s fair. Daniel has been very clear that he doesn’t think that Mises was a fascist. He often cites that quote by Mises in response to quotes of Keynes that indicate he had a fascination with central planning (which he did, but he never advocated it because of the loss of liberty and the lack of abundance which resulted).

Daniel Kuehn May 6, 2011 at 10:01 am

re: “I can only imagine what you would have said if Sanger considered herself a member of the Tea Party. “

I’ll implicate the whole birth control movement at that time as having non-trivial elements of racism, just like I say of the Tea Party. I’m happy to do that. What I won’t do is fast-forward 100 years into the future and implicate modern proponents of Sanger’s birth control efforts. Just like decades in the future I won’t implicate people who remember the Tea Party as a small government movement but who don’t revive the Islamaphobia which is a non-trivial element in the Tea Party now.

Daniel Kuehn May 6, 2011 at 10:02 am

Sandre – I explicitly noted that Mises was not a fascist, I did acknowledge gratitude that Mises had for fascists, and I wondered why this wasn’t of interest to the people who were dumping on Keynes.

I don’t bring up that Mises line unless someone first brings up a misinterpretation of Keynes’s foreword. You don’t see me trumpeting that line of Mises’s unprovoked. I do it to make a point. Why? Precisely because I don’t think it provides a clear picture of Misesians now or a complete picture of Mises at the time.

Methinks1776 May 6, 2011 at 10:25 am


You’re the one who most often misinterprets Keynes’ forward. IMO, there are three reasons why not just Keynes’ forward is important but the whole of what he had to say on the issue of central planning. First, it is important for historical accuracy (the drum Keynesians have been beating since the release of Russ & John’s rap). Second, because it is one clue to Keynes’ view on central planning. Third, because many prominent Keynesians are and were socialists in favour of central planning (though, Keynes was not). Keynes provided them with that slippery slope. Since it is Keynesians, not Keynes himself who have the ear of policy-makers, that’s important. I don’t know of any Austrians that favour fascism.

As for the Tea Party – you not only misread it now, but you will also continue to do so if you are alive 100 years from now. If anyone at all in the Tea Party produced the kind of commentary about the Africans, you will be quick to call the movement racist. You’ve provided us with too much evidence to think otherwise. But, never mind. I don’t expect you to see that now any more than I expected you to see your hypocrisy in the past. You will just find new ways to rationalize, so I’ll just stop here.

Dan May 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm


I can only concur with Anotherphil on the hypocrisy of leftists. But, most are fully aware of the reasoning behind their madness…….. A means to their ends.

Anotherphil May 5, 2011 at 11:20 pm

There is no way anyone could compare Jefferson and Sanger, and not expect to be thought insane or disingenuous or both.

Jefferson apparently held a common prejudice of the times and thought people of African descent inferior, but still worthy of including language critical of the slave trade in an initial draft of the Declaration of Independence. He also signed a bill in 1807 as President to abolish the slave trade. Whatever his failure to treat everyone, regardless of skin color, as “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights”, we are nearly certain that he didn’t think African DNA as unworthy of existence or being commingled with his own, which of course reveals a failure to honor his marriage vows. He was an imperfect man, to be sure-and there’s no shortage of historians who consider these faults to so pollute his legacy as to merit dishonor or redaction from the historic record.

Sanger on the other hand, sought the extermination of peoples she, in her considered judgment, deemed unworthy of continued existence. On the off-chance you have a neuron remaining has hasn’t been cemented leftward-let me put it in language you might understand: she wanted ethnic cleansing. Her “policy positions” weren’t noble but incomplete-they were inextricably fused to her hatred and this is barely mentioned. Ironically, her mores have caused groups she somewhat favored to be in demographic free fall.

As for the hypocrisy of the left, we all remember how Trent Lott was hounded from the Senate Majority Leader’s office for throwing an old man a bone, by people who thought nothing of lauding Grand Kleagle Robert Byrd for his “distinguished career”, including time as SML. William Jefferson Clinton went so far as to mention Byrd’s KKK background as necessitous in seeking office. I’ll extend the same understanding to Jefferson, but what office was Sanger seeking?

Gil May 6, 2011 at 12:17 am

Show me a unbiased source please. After all, what wrong with women having access to contraception and reproductive advice? Why should Jefferson be let off the hook because his ideals on liberty apparently negate his actions?

Gil May 5, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Population control? In other words, you want women (esp. White women) to not have access to birth control so they end up having upteen babies. Idiot.


Anotherphil May 5, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Thanks for providing the link to one of the typically lame attempts to exculpate Sanger.

Gil May 6, 2011 at 12:05 am

Does Thomas Jefferson’s view that Blacks were inherently inferior mean his view on liberty are pointless?

Gil May 6, 2011 at 12:12 am

Heck Libertarians like to bash Abaham Licoln especially his view on slavery and would argue his actions negate his high-minded verbiage. However Thomas Jefferson’s views of the slaves and free Blacks are practically the same.


dan May 6, 2011 at 12:14 am

It was a struggle with him. Doesn’t mean his view is pointless. He was a flawed man and he struggled with that flaw. The very fact that he documented his own flaw rather than defended it says more about the man. Why would a man who truly believed that another man should be enslaved for all time write that ‘all men are created equal’?

Gil May 6, 2011 at 1:26 am

Jefferson had a great many slaves and didn’t set them all free. So why didn’t he lead by example?

Sandre May 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm

“The commentary on that last link was a cheap shot – I gotta say it.”

That’s a cheap shot only if you believed the advertisement and the choreography.

“Really, that point is right – and it’s Julian Simon’s point too. The point is a lot of trends (population growth, for example) DO require major changes in the way we live, but the best tool for making the necessary changes to the way we live is that price mechanism, which orchestrates these changes in a way that maximizes the efficiency of the use of scarce resources.”

Yeah, but that’s not usually the point of these articles, nor it is for the audience of NYT, or for that matter general public. To them change means some grand plan on the part of the “authorities”. Someone needs to point these out to the public who have been greenwashed by publications like NYT. So stop nitpicking.

and the market is the most reliable vehicle for making those changes.

yes, we agree. Generally, publications like NYT don’t necessarily include this part in their article, and if they ever did, it will be done in such way that it is not obvious to the public.

Daniel Kuehn May 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm

“So stop nitpicking.”

Now when I agree with Don I’m nitpicking too?

I’m saying markets fix precisely what they’re worried about. Geez, man. I can’t win with you.

Sandre May 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Your tendency to add “nuance” (spin), and your general tendency of being long winded and pointless had me confused. My apologies.

Daniel Kuehn May 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm

You can’t even apologize without insulting me, can you?

Sandre May 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Its insulting if you believe the advertisement and choreography.

John V May 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

pretty much.

This entire thread tangent has been a pointless exercise in persnickety-ness.

Anotherphil May 5, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Actually, you just can’t win, not here.

yet another Dave May 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Dude – you need to get a different example besides climate change if you want to make the point you’re attempting. Human activity has very little impact on climate change, so calling climate change an externality is highly misleading at best – it is simply part of the reality of nature here on planet Earth. (Of course, the very things accused of causing agw do have clear and enormous positive externalities, which makes your example even worse.)

Brad Hutchings May 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Not a cheap shot at all. The relevant reading is P. J. O’Rourke, who had an essay on overpopulation circa early 1990s which compared elevation, rainfall, and population density in Bangladesh to Fremont, CA. The gist was “too few of me, too much of you” and captures popular notions of overpopulation perfectly.

muirgeo May 6, 2011 at 8:25 am

“… and the market is the most reliable vehicle for making those changes.” DK

Like when the market bought us seat belts? or catalytic convertors? or Bald Eagles or the the ozone hole… like those times?

Marcus May 6, 2011 at 8:33 am

Actually, it was the market that brought us seat belts.

As as catalytic converters and Bald Eagles, I might accept that the government could have a role in dealing with externalities but that ignores two important facts:

1) Governments are the largest creators of externalities.
2) The market is what made us wealthy enough to afford to care about such things.

Daniel Kuehn May 6, 2011 at 10:04 am

I didn’t say it was the most reliable to make every change – you know I don’t think that. It is the most broadly reliable for making positive changes, but it’s not a panacea and I never claimed it was.

It more closely approaches a panacea than government, I suppose you could say – but neither are a panacea.

crossofcrimson May 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I can’t help but notice that three quarters of your “free-market” criticisms revolved heavily around issues abound in the commons.

I also can’t help but notice that your only relatively contentious item (seat-belts) actually were provided by the free market (and, yes, even on regular automobiles) long before governments began to make them mandatory. Your quibble, apparently, is with the people who chose to forgo that particular option – which is quite a different argument to be had altogether.

Mao_Dung May 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Monaco is a tax haven for movie stars, tennis stars, etc.
I don’t have time now to comment further, except to say that one should take a closer look at the economy of Monaco.


Ken Mueller May 5, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Perhaps all countries should adopt the political and economic infrastructure of Monaco. Then all those rich people would stay home and provide jobs for the rest of us.

Frank33328 May 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm

In 1927, a mere 84 years ago and with the lifetime of my grandfather, the world population was about 2 billion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

I wonder if the question had been asked then “Can the Planet Support 7 Billion People?” as it does today, would the answer have been…. Well yes and at a higher standard of living as well.

Anotherphil May 5, 2011 at 11:28 pm

My grandmother is 98.5 as of a week ago. Too bad we’ll be rationing care to people like her in the future.

Harold Cockerill May 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Everything has always been rationed. The rub is in deciding who does the rationing.

Kevin H May 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Lagos is practically empty compared to NYC and Hudson county in NJ and that’s some of the richest real estate in the world. Put NJ people in charge and we’ll have the whole global population packed in Delaware.

Dan May 5, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Interesting. Should a market system with the least amount of govt intervention be allowed to prevail, the population density is likely to create wealth. The value of real estate will rise dramatically. Owners of the real estate will have their wealth increased.

Scott G May 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Great letter Don. I think a rap video on Julian Simon’s ideas would do wonders for the world. Your letters do much of the heavy lifting to bring these ideas to light for some of us, however the number of people that could benefit from an education on Julian Simon’s ideas are in the billions and your letters certainly don’t reach those numbers.

So, if John Papola is reading this, what do you think about a future Julian Simon vs Paul Ehrlich rap video?

Don would you be interested in helping out with some lyrics?

Don Boudreaux May 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I agree! John – what do you say?!

Anotherphil May 5, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Julian Simon was a rare gem that rarest of men. His insights deserve to become part of our cultural memory to provide relief from dismal scientism of Malthus and Erlich.

To bad the production cycle for rap videos is longer than for podcasts..otherwise Russ and John could collaborate on econrap.com.

Sam Grove May 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm

An interesting aspect of Julian Simon is he started out to find evidence to support Malthusian doom, but the evidence he collected convinced him he had been on the wrong path.

Kevin H May 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm

So I did the math, if you were put the population of the world in a city as densely populated as Manhatten, the city would have to be the size of Michigan, which is approximately 0.1% of the total land area of the globe. I’d say we have plenty of space for people.

Frank33328 May 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm

I think the correct metric would be wealth rather than just land area. The thing that has allowed human population to be 7 billion is that the global wealth necessary to maintain that population now exists. Lamentably I have no idea how to measure global wealth versus population or per-capita wealth versus time, both of which would be interesting charts.

Ken May 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm


As further comparison, there is enough room in Jacksonville, FL for everyone in the world to be able to comfortably stand (assuming a person standing takes up roughly 3 square feet). The state of Texas is large enough for the world to have, if I remember correctly, roughly 1000 square feet.


Scott G May 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm

In fact maybe people would like to start working the lyrics right here. Who wants to start off?

Jeff Neal May 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm

One of the things I don’t understand about these chicken-littles (including global-warming, I mean climate-change, alarmists) is why their concern about future generations trumps any consideration for the millions of people on the planet here and now. They suggest that millions should live today in discomfort so that their great-great-great grandchildren . . . can be miserable too! If it’s inevitable that the planet is going to run out of life-sustaining resources, then by-golly, let’s live it up! Put on some Sinatra, pour another shot of whiskey and step on the accelerator.

Stone Glasgow May 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm

They don’t realize how painful reducing carbon emissions would have to be in order to “save” the planet, according to their models. We’d have to return to living with dirt roads and horses.

Dan May 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Dirt roads and horses ? Ha! Till you learn that the dirt roads are demonized for kicking up to much particles into the air as we are often assailed with in the Phoenix metro area. Then the attacks on livestock and piles of dung scattered about….. Ultimate goal of leftists is to reduce population.

Anotherphil May 5, 2011 at 11:34 pm


Horses! Equine Flatulence-Methane CO2…Then there’s the need to have “pony bags” to remove the excrement from the streets so as not to screw up the Ph balance of the rivers.

Maybe we can have rickshaws.. that’ll “get us moving” and Michelle Obama can be happy.

Harold Cockerill May 6, 2011 at 6:36 pm

They don’t don’t give a rats ass about how much pain is caused because they don’t like people in general. I think they dislike everybody including themselves.

I think there are a lot of people that espouse a concern for “man” while really hating “men”, that is to say “people”. This is what allowed the communists to murder a couple of hundred million in their quest to create the perfect man.

I’ll go with the lyrics from Sting, “if you love somebody, set them free”. And you can leave me the hell alone while you’re at it too.

Gil May 5, 2011 at 10:05 pm

So why worry about Social Security?

Krishnan May 5, 2011 at 10:09 pm

In their mind, the pie never grows in size – it is fixed. So, if we consume, there is little for the next generation. As someone said – There is no such thing as a “natural resource” – it is what we humans ADD to whatever we see, discover that makes it a “resource” – the black gunk existed for centuries and centuries till someone figured out that it can be fuel … Who knows what we see every day that may be a “resource” – but we have not figured out how it can be a “resource” yet

Gil May 6, 2011 at 12:19 am

Yet you can imagine the black gunk ever being too expensive to extract for societies with no easy substitute? History there are times when the pie does indeed shrink, people die en masse and the survivors have to start again.

Dan May 6, 2011 at 12:22 am


Gil May 6, 2011 at 1:27 am

The fall of empires and plagues come to mind.

Dan May 6, 2011 at 8:53 am

Specific please.

Krishnan May 6, 2011 at 7:35 am

Yes, humans while being the ultimate resource can also, at times, be stupid – but overall, we are smart and innovate – We do not wait for any natural resource to be “exhausted” – We are not fatalists – We plan – we look ahead – we survive – we do fine –

yes, empires have fallen and bacteria/viruses have taken their toll – yet look where we are – we may yet experience disasters – but we do learn from our mistakes and we know how to survive – even with the many stupid amongst us

Potter May 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Hello I have read Paul Johnson’s book ‘Intellectuals’. A great read. And so true.

Speedmaster May 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm

It was thanks to Cafe Hayek that I learned of Julian Simon. And very grateful I did. I’ve read two of his books and feel like a new world was opened to me.

Dan May 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Cafehayek is great. So much learning.

TheMichaelOnline May 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Can the planet support 10 billion people? I’m optimistic that at some point, with the help of humanity, it could support far more than that, “In earlier work, Ausubel and Waggoner calculated that if the average productivity of the world’s farmers were raised to the current level of productivity of a corn farmer in Iowa, a world of 10 billion people could be fed an American diet on about half the farmland being used now.” (Ronald Bailey)

Krishnan May 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I do believe that the population warriors look at horror at countries in Africa and yes India – the condescension drips through every word – even as the world is more populated, they cannot see that people’s lives have become better – And no, the last link was NOT a cheap shot – If anything, this sort of thinking pervades in many corners, unfortunately …

The ignorance of today’s Liberals is astonishing – if not surprising. They are ready to call others racists when what they believe is truly repugnant – about people and in their ideas of governance and life in general.

Dan May 5, 2011 at 9:46 pm

The cries of ‘racism’ is mostly demagoguery. It has legs. But, like the boy who cried wolf……….

Gil May 5, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Shock and horror! People of Africa and India are not adopting the living stanards of the America yet are the most prolific breeders of the human race. How ironic that the countries that have the technology to feed more babies are the ones having the least.

Marcus May 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm

It’s no mystery and I’ll simply repeat what I wrote in a previous thread, which you ignored.

If you’re crediting technology then you’re missing the point. Technology doesn’t just happen. Your example demonstrates this. Technology has a cause and socialism isn’t it. What your example shows us is that, from a Malthusian perspective, socialism effectively turns people into little more than animals.

Don has written about the underlying cause of the explosion of technology and productivity. It starts with Enlightenment ideals. Grok it.

Gil May 6, 2011 at 12:07 am

Aw shucks, read Vidyohs comment below. He puts it quite well.

Marcus May 6, 2011 at 12:21 am

In other words, you have no argument. Not surprising. You might actually have to read and learn something. Wouldn’t want that.

Gil May 6, 2011 at 1:24 am

No rather it a simple argument that other poor countries have resources to build themselves up wtih but they don’t showing it’s the people not usually the location per se.

Marcus May 6, 2011 at 7:16 am

What’s different about them Gil? We know it’s not genetic. So it must be cultural. Now go back and read the second sentence of my post.

Or, better yet, read Don’s article on The Great Fact, which is all my post was about:


Then come back here and explain to us why that’s not an explanation.

Marcus May 6, 2011 at 7:18 am

“Now go back and read the second sentence of my post.”

Arg! That’s suppose to read ‘second paragraph’.

Marcus May 6, 2011 at 7:19 am

Double arg! Third paragraph!

I gotta drink my coffee.

Martin Brock May 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Me too.

vidyohs May 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Africa has an abundance of arable land, Africa has an abundance of water, Africa has an abundance of mineral wealth, Africa has air like any other place, when Africans till the soil it produces just like the soil of Iowa – in direct relationship to the effort put into the tilling so do they reap.

With that being true, what is the difference between the land of Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, California, Israel, the Kanto plains of Japan, Brazil, and the fertile lands of Africa?

I have been the world over since 1959 and I know one thing for a fact, dirt is dirt, water is water, air is air no matter what the nation. The only real difference in nations or areas is the people who inhabit them.

If Africa is more poor than Iowa, don’t look to the land, water, or air, look to the people. The people have a problem, or problems, that go beyond just simple politics or tribal history.

Why do they have problem(s)? What are their problems………the USA? Naw, their history tells us that isn’t the case, Africans 400 years ago had the same problems they have today.

dan May 6, 2011 at 12:10 am

Land can be tilled and additives put in to make the land as fertile as Iowa. Brazil turned thousands of acres of land which was useless to them and turned it into a breadbasket comparable to the US. African land can be turned into the same. First, capitalism and liberty must be instituted.

Gil May 6, 2011 at 12:22 am

The Vidyohs’ point (I believe) is that such productive things could have been done the same time the West did and be as fat as Westerners nowadays yet they didn’t.

Dan May 6, 2011 at 12:26 am

Authoritarian regimes tend to limit advancements.

I forget, how did Cairo manage to be such a huge thriving society in the desert?

Gil May 6, 2011 at 1:23 am

I sure most Americans would argue they had such a regime in the late 1700s so they got rid of it.

Dan May 6, 2011 at 1:27 am

Indeed, and then there was what could be considered the 5000 year leap.

WhiskeyJim May 6, 2011 at 3:34 am

Israel is by now a food exporter, but it is mostly desert. But then, they don’t have foreign governments trashing their markets with foreign aid.

vidyohs May 6, 2011 at 11:12 am

If foreign aid is the answer we were looking for, then why is Africa top to bottom still stuck at the same level it was before foreign aid?

No progress forward and no regression backwards, Africa is still the same ole same old.

I would suggest foreign aid is no help to the Africans but is not the answer to their problems.

I was all up and down the west coast of Africa in the early 60s when most of the nations I visited and did my thing in were just released from colonialism. I can tell you that in every single one of them, go inland a mere 30 or 40 miles (or less) and, outside of the remnants of infrastructure left by the colonial powers, I was seeing the same Africa that existed in1492. The only exceptions to that rule were the nations already free and members of the British Commonwealth, such as Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa.

You see what has become of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and you’re watching the slow dissolution of South Africa. Because South Africa was so wealthy in real terms and in mineral deposits, and productive before black rule, it will take longer (unless inter-tribal war breaks out, never an impossibility anywhere in Africa) to dissolve and it may never revert completely back to the stone age.

Part of the problem lies in this little anecdote. In 2005 I was asked to record the depositions of two witness. The first witness was a black lady nurse, locally born. Her deposition went off without a hitch. The second witness was a male nurse immigrant from Nigeria, in his 40s or 50s, who flatly refused to be deposed in a videotaped deposition because “he feared the camera would capture his soul”. I was told to submit an invoice for the job; but to tear down and leave so the deposition could go forward.

One man, one incident, one anecdote; but is it indicative of a broader problem of primitive superstition, among other primitive attitudes, in Africa? People can say no, but something has held, and is holding, the continent back.

It isn’t just the black Africans that are stuck in amber. Without the discovery and use of oil, the entire Arab world, from Morocco in the West to Iran in the East – from the Mediterranean coast to Nigeria in the South, would be dirt poor with economies based virtually on the goat. Without that oil wealth, no Arab nation or group would likely be a threat to anyone but themselves.

WhiskeyJim May 7, 2011 at 8:35 am

I agree wholeheartedly. I trust you understood from my comment that I believe aid ruins economies in the size we make them, and the nature and channels that we use.

vidyohs May 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Actually I did, and you’ll get no argument from me.

Again I restate my belief that while foreign aid is of no positive nature, in my opinion it is not the answer to why Africa is behind, has always been behind, and likely will be far into the future.

dsylexic May 6, 2011 at 2:13 am

bill gates charity in india aslo spouts the same anti population dogma.paternalistic behaviour is a close cousin of racism.

Krishnan May 6, 2011 at 11:54 am

And today, after creating the behemoth that Microsoft is (till it falls) – Gates talks about “compassionate capitalism” – whatever the hell that means

My take on it is this

“I have made my money using the market and any skills I have – and now I cannot imagine why anyone else would make money that same way”

Now that Gates has all the money he wants and whatever he wants to do with – he is preaching about NOT doing what he did … Hypocrite indeed.

Gil May 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

What? Someone like “women ought to have only two or three children per family”?

dsylexic May 7, 2011 at 1:48 am

nope.like “your govt will not beable to feed your children.and neither should you try.here take this money and get yourself sterilized with drugs from my pal’s company”

Gil May 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm

What’s wrong with that if it’s a voluntary exchange?

WhiskeyJim May 6, 2011 at 3:39 am

The green movement is going to get what they want. World population will go down in the next generation or two, and it will fall quite quickly. So I’m not sure why the worry on their part?

Surely that is old news by now.

muirgeo May 6, 2011 at 8:26 am

Really? The world population will go down? Why? How?

Frank33328 May 6, 2011 at 10:10 am

Because WiskeyJim believes that the Green Movement will reduce global wealth and population is supported by wealth. The world population has increased because the aggregate wealth of the world has increased in order to support the greater population. If wealth is decreased, by any mechanism but in the case the Green Movement, then the population will have to decrease as well. The question should be, “will the Green Movement result in a decrease in aggregate wealth?” I assume your answer would be no or at least that other factors will offset and result in a more sustainable growth. BTW, I share you skepticism that the Green Movement will reduce wealth enough to actually decrease world population.

muirgeo May 6, 2011 at 11:55 am

The green movement is a none factor. There are powerful super wealthy people and corporations to which the green movement is a mere gnat.

Frank33328 May 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Usually I wouldn’t say this, but I hope you’re right.

Methinks1776 May 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm


T. Boone Pickens has already figured out how to harness the green movement for his rent seeking purposes. Corn farmers have already figured out how to harness the green movement for the purposes of rent seeking. I’m afraid the green movement will actually do us in exactly as Whiskeyjim fears – by way of corporate rent seeking.

Frank33328 May 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm

As I said, I hope Muirgeo is right on this and the Green Movement gets squashed like a gnat.

Methinks1776 May 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Frank, I hope so too.

But….as we say in trading: If you’re hoping for an outcome, you’re in a bad trade.

If you’re praying, then you’re really in deep doo-doo.

WhiskeyJim May 7, 2011 at 8:41 am

Assuming birth rates stay constant, in about 3-4 generations there will be half as many Russians, Italians, Poles, Ukraines, French, Japanese. The list goes on. There are a huge number of countries with birthrates between 1.0-1.5. Replacement is 2.2.

You do the math. The projections are all over the Internet. That the Green movement and global warming crowd is still acting like their sky is falling proves to me they have an agenda, since the math is simple and everyone knows it.

If Julian Simon was here, he would be laughing at them. Like usual, they are all wrong again.

Frank33328 May 7, 2011 at 9:28 am

WhiskeyJim, the math may be simple but I believe your extrapolation of the trend is wrong. The historic tendency of species, including humanity, is to occupy as much of the environment as conditions permit. As long as the conditions are favorable, the human population will continue to increase. Even if perhaps there are fewer (or perhaps no) Italians, Poles, Japanese, etc.

Gil May 7, 2011 at 11:08 pm

And guess where the most babies are being born? In backward most part of the world. So as the civilised parts of the world depopulated the uncivilised people of the world take up the space and send humanity back 500 years in progress.

WhiskeyJim May 6, 2011 at 2:36 pm

World population will decrease because of demographics, not movements.

China (who imposed population controls), Japan, Western Europe, the fallen Iron Curtain, Korea, Canada, etc. all have birth rates significantly below replacement.

You can not have more children than you already have:) It is a simple math projection.

Some people say that when people get richer, they have fewer children. That may be a causality issue, but the facts remain. And they are well known. It is why the Ponzi scheme of taxes is unraveling; there is no supporting population at the bottom.

Gil May 7, 2011 at 11:10 pm

The reason people have fewer children nowadays is because you’re legally obliged to take of care and prevent from working for 18 years. In parts of the world where children get be put to work or abandoned the birthreate is traditionally high rate. Thus low birth rates is a product of the welfare state than being wealthy per se.

Nicolas Martin May 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I miss Simon, too. Also missed is Warren Brookes, whose intelligent and skeptical reporting has not been replaced.

Steve W from Ford May 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm

So the problem of “overconsumption” is poor people in Africa not rich people in NY? Interesting.

Marcus May 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm

So your inability to grasp a point is your lack of cognitive skills and not your political bias? Interesting.

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