Yet More for the ‘I Miss Julian Simon’ File

by Don Boudreaux on June 5, 2011

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Complexity & Emergence, Environment, Other People's Money

In today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, I write – at the editors’ request – a follow-up to my Wall Street Journal essay predicting continuing decline in deaths caused by violent weather.  Here’s my closing paragraph:

As the late economist Julian Simon taught when he won a similar bet with eco-doomster Paul Ehrlich in 1990, people who put their wealth where their words are deserve to be taken more seriously than people who scream free of charge that “the sky is falling!”

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Brian June 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Do You hear that Paul Krugman & Al Snore?

muirgeo June 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm

“Compared to the vast majority of our ancestors, we today live much longer, incalculably more comfortably and enjoy ranges of experiences that would have been the envy of Louis XIV.

And yet billions more of us are alive now and living at historically off-the-charts levels of affluence.”

In 1800 there were less then a billion people who on average would live to about 30 years old. Most were poor but certainly not all. Now there exist over 1.5 billion people ALL who are very poor and have not much better life expectancy.

So it really depends which billions of people you are talking about. From the perspective of the poorest 2-3 billion alive today life may not be any better and they might have had better odds being born in 1800.

These facts are easy to ignore and all the evidence suggest these poor people and their nations will be the most effected by the negative aspects of climate change. But they are excluded from both your essay, your conscious and your wager.

Patrick June 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm

So because some people’s lives may have not improved, we should ignore all other improvements?

And your claim that there are 3 billion people who wouldn’t be worse off is absurd. Within a few years there won’t even be that many people in the world without internet.

muirgeo June 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I am asking for a little perspective. To simple-mindedly claim life has improved for people is to ignore a larger portion of poor people living in destitute than ALL the people living in 1800. It’s hard to call that progress if you are one of them.

What’s your position? As long as your doing OK who cares about 1.5 billion living in squalor. We are called human beings..human… and civilized for a reason.

wlacho June 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Just the number (1.5 billion) proves the large advance on fighting diseases, improving hygiene and health care even in the poorest countries. Without these, people would never be able to ‘multiply’ so quickly.

vidyohs June 5, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Oh muirduck, you are such a kidder, pretending to be able to engage intelligent people in a debate and as an equal. Tsak Tsk on you.

You stupidly try to convert Don’s claim that “people”, all people, with suffer less deaths and injuries due to climate change, into some kind warped accusation that Don is forgetting “the puer people of the world”. Only the broken brained regressive can do something like that.

“I am asking for a little perspective.

You have no perspective, because your scriptures allow you none. Your scriptures tell you that it is the socialist way or the highway.

“To simple-mindedly claim life has improved for people is to ignore a larger portion of poor people living in destitute than ALL the people living in 1800.”

Lets paraphrase that: To simple-mindedly claim that life has deteriorated for people is to ignore a the vast majority, the ever increasing percentage of people, living in comfort and with increased healthy life spans than ever at any time in the history of mankind, particularly since 1800.

But this all by-the-by because we all know that neither you or I can make the call for people, we do not know and have never seen, as to how they view their own individual life, are they destitute or are they comfortable and happy?

Only the looney left presumes to have that kind of magic insight.

Ken June 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm


So by your own admission in 1800 almost no one lived an affluent life and today there are 5,000,000,000 who live an affluent life. You ask for perspective, well there it is.


Sam Grove June 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm

It’s illustrative how your comment endeavors to paint industrialization in a most negative light by totally ignoring the positive.

Can you say fallacious?

brotio June 5, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Cardinal Torquemuirduck,

I see that you have changed the name of your church from, The Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming to, The Church of Anthropogenic Climate Change.

I’ll try to remember that when we’re discussing your church, and His Holiness: The Divine Prophet, Algore I. We heretics are having trouble keeping up with your metamorphoses as evidence of AGW is discredited.

Gil June 6, 2011 at 1:06 am

I suppose the main counter is that there are now 3 billion who are living no better than any other point in history but that’s still 6x more people who are alive in poverty than all of the world population until the last two centuries and being born into poverty is better than not being born at all.

j r sherman June 6, 2011 at 11:59 am

muirgeo-person, i absolutely agree. there are still people in the world who live in terrible poverty. so why don’t we create an infrastructure for the remaining poor that has benefited the majority of the rest of the world, such as free market capitalism and republican democracy (“republican” as in an elected republic, etc)? your argument seems to imply that if you have 98 people living well, and two people in poverty, then we MUST dismantle the infrastructure that has worked well for the 98.

Octahedron June 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Great article, especially the part about industrialization. Don do you happen to have any book recommendations about that time period? I happen to have a lot of curiosity about that time period, particularly in the US and UK.

Gil June 6, 2011 at 1:11 am

Considering the life of the super rich of times gone by would be considered either middle class or even lower class by today’s standards then when would being properly wealthy being?

Everyone was poor until the appearance of:

* Running water?
* Flush toilets?
* Electricity?
* Penicillin?
* The automobile?
* The colour television?
* The home computer?
* The Internet?

Against the grain June 6, 2011 at 1:17 am

Dr. Boudreux,

Well said.

I find your reasoning well founded and clearly stated. I do have a question for you or the other commentors. While your proposition that there is no strong reason for current doomsaying, Eventually, the Earth as we know it will change and life as currently metamorphizing will have to deal with real environment change. (For example when our sun super novas).

Are you saying the terresterial life if up for that transformation? I don’t know the odds of success on thriving through changes like super novas, but I place it in the realm of the possible, and hugely important to our biology being sustainable. In this context CO2 is irrelevant.

Just for fun, when do you think that DOE is going to make fossil fuel a green energy. Firstly, it is biofuel that has been preserved with an excellent long term natural energy storage system. Better than that it is/was solar power that powered the bio mass prior to the biomass energy being placed in storage. It has low cost of moving the current potential energy from its current state to usable energy. Much of it is provided in a high energy intensity liquid that is great form for transporation applications.

I can think of no “green” energy currently more sustainable than these fossil fuels. This will pass, but almost certainly very differently than currently forcasted.

Gil June 6, 2011 at 3:53 am

Peak oil is a totally different issue from Climate Change. The cessation of crude oil as the driving force of modern living is going to happen as more and more oil is recovered from “unconventional” sources. However if there are no quality substitutes when oil can no longer be economically extracted then much of humanity is screwed. Not only with transportation but with artificial fertilisers (required for modern high yields) and plastics (which keep food stored safely).

vidyohs June 6, 2011 at 6:20 am

Postulating ridiculous scenarios of mankind’s demise is kind of silly when you attempt to apply them to Don’s offer of bet.

A supernova is hardly climate change. I believe we could call that one climate eradication, and it will be applied equally so all regressives should be in a state of sheer ecstasy over that one.

Gil June 6, 2011 at 7:55 am

A basic astronomy book that’s been out for 40 or so years will tell you that the Sun won’t go supernova but merely expand into a Red Giant. However as the Sun grows larger it will make the Earth too hot to sustain life – in 1 billion years or so time.

muirgeo June 6, 2011 at 10:07 am

Deaths are probably not the best way to track the negative effects of climate change… at least not just in America. There is still some significant statistical chance Don will lose his bet based on a one time Katrina like disaster. Any way property damage, cost to adapt and such will likely rise significantly.

Natural Disasters Displaced 42 Million In 2010

It said more than 90 percent of the disaster displacements were caused by weather-related hazards such as floods and storms that were probably impacted by global warming, but it couldn’t say to what extent.

James Hanley June 6, 2011 at 10:33 am

I applaud Boudreaux for making the commitment to his claims by offering a wager and carrying through when it is accepted. I do think, though, that he is likely to lose. My reasoning–strongly influence by Boudreaux’s opponent, Roger Pielke, Jr.–is simply that a larger number of people are likely to die because there will be more people (ceteris paribus that would lead to more deaths) and population growth in the U.S. will continue to be disproportionately in the more natural disaster-prone regions of the U.S. The reasoning doesn’t involve any claims of climate-change caused change in intensity of disasters–just more people putting themselves in harm’s way.

This will be offset to some extent by increasingly effective technology–better prediction of tornadoes, etc.–but it’s quite likely that the biggest improvements in that have already been seen (the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, so to speak), and we’re moving into the stage of diminishing marginal returns on technological advances in weather safety.

But that means that even if Boudreaux does lose the bet, it won’t be an effective argument against his underlying argument.

Philat June 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Whether or not Boudreaux wins his bet is immaterial to me. But his column rests upon his usual cure-all for all problems: a free-market economy is all we need, as suggested by the title in his T-D op ed “Bet on the Market.” The real point was that fewer deaths over time may result from climatic disasters because our warning abilities have improved–doppler radar and other advances–plus improved and quicker trauma care for victims. Improvements over time are not the result of whether or not country A has a free market over country B–such as much of western Europe with greater state involvement. So the point of the article could just as well been that continued scientific advances may counteract an increased number of climatic advances as far as the average annual death rate from such causes. Note: the advances in warning have resulted from government actions–NOAA and improved state and local warning systems.

Gale June 9, 2011 at 2:07 am

Can you get Thomas Friedman to take a Simon-like bet?
His piece in the Times may give you an opportunity to make some money…

Mark Bahner June 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm

“My reasoning–strongly influence by Boudreaux’s opponent, Roger Pielke, Jr.–is simply that a larger number of people are likely to die because there will be more people (ceteris paribus that would lead to more deaths) and population growth in the U.S. will continue to be disproportionately in the more natural disaster-prone regions of the U.S.”

Roger’s arguments are specious, and your reasoning is therefore wrong.

First, ceteris is not paribus. The greatest number of hurricane deaths in any year in the U.S. in the past 112 years was not the 1000+ deaths due to Hurricane Katrina, but the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston. That hurricane resulted in an estimated 6000-12,000 deaths. Such deaths would almost certainly not happen now or in the future (if the storm hit exactly as it did in 1900), due to better warning and evacuation procedures.

Also, I would be willing to bet that the people who have died from floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes in the last 100 years have been generally at the lower end of the economic ladder. Wealth is much more important than population.

Finally, Roger is simply wrong about the fastest-growing parts of the country. Here is a list of the states ranked by population growth percentages:

The fastest-growing states (and even more importantly, the fastest-growing areas with those states) are *not* more prone to deaths from hurricanes, tornadoes, and flood. They are overwhelmingly *less* prone to deaths from those events.

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