ECON: Simon vs Ehrlich

Patrick Wilken (
Sat, 26 Apr 1997 15:21:53 +1000

I watched a documentary by David Suzuki on population growth recently. Paul
Ehrlich was featured prominently and his famous bet with Julian Simon about
commodity prices was also mentioned.

The story I had heard previously was that Simon's challenge to Ehrlich was
to choose any non-governmentally controlled commodities, choose any period
of time greater than a year, put up a $1k and if the prices went up Simon
would pay Ehrlich (and others involved in the bet) the difference, while if
the prices went down they would pay him the difference. In the end
Ehrlich's group chose five metals - chromium, copper, nickel, tin and
tungsten - bought $200 worth of each on paper and set a ten year time
period. All the prices went down and they lost $576.07.

The story told in the documentary what that Ehrlich's group was basically
only allowed to chose metals - no other commodities were allowed. They also
didn't mention the amount of money he lost or the fact that he was able to
choose the time period.

They did mentioned that much more recently there has been a second
challenge by Ehrlich to Simon, but that Simon had not taken up the bet.
Does anyone know what's become of this second bet? And what the true story
of the first bet is?

The program itself was irritating is many ways. One stupidity that
particularly irritated me was Ehrlich saying things like its impossible for
an economy to keep growing indefinitely - implying that it would be against
the laws of nature. No mention or even conception of the fact that
non-physical resources could make up a major part of a growing economy.
Does anyone have any figures on what part of the growth in the global
economy in the last 50 years has been based on non-physical resources?

best, patrick

Patrick Wilken
Editor: PSYCHE: An International Journal of Research on Consciousness
Secretary: The Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness