Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 17, 2015

in Growth, Immigration, Myths and Fallacies, Population, Technology, The Future

… is from page 66 of my Mercatus Center colleague Paul Dragos Aligica’s superb 2007 book, Prophecies of Doom and Scenarios of Progress: Herman Kahn, Julian Simon, and the Prospective Imagination (citation omitted; link added):

[Julian] Simon’s radical rejection of demography-based doom scenarios emerges as an extension of this view on the role of knowledge in society.  For Malthusianism the pressure of growing population is ineluctable.  Science and technological progress are ineffective because in the race between population and technology, population is inevitably the victor.  Simon not only countered this population explosion, doomsday theories but also put forward the bold thesis that a truly long-run view of population growth would have beneficial effects.  The thesis was largely based on the pivotal role of the process of the growth of knowledge.  There is a consensus that the technology level resulting from the accumulation of knowledge is a key factor of growth.  But what produced the accumulated knowledge?  In Simon’s view, the answer had to do with the “total quantity of humanity.”  “Utilization of ideas, inventions, and technologies had always to wait on the accumulation of the nexus of human numbers and knowledge.”

In short, human beings are the ultimate resource.  Nothing is a resource – not petroleum, not iron ore, not trees in a forest, not fish in a lake, not even land – until and unless human ingenuity discovers a way or ways to use, at low-enough cost, that material to satisfy human wants.  And so in societies that give individuals sufficient freedom from collective coercion and from stifling traditions, human beings are net creators not only of consumer goods and capital goods but also of resources themselves.  More people (especially more people interacting closely with each other so that their exchanges of ideas are more frequent and intense) plus more freedom to innovate and produce means more and growing widespread prosperity.

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