Re: ECON: Simon vs Ehrlich

Carl Feynman (
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 11:33:56 -0400

At 03:21 PM 4/26/97 +1000, Patrick Wilken wrote:

>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?

This is my recollection of the second bet, as recounted both in Simon's
editorial in the Wall Street Journal and some other source I forget. It is
medium accurate.

Simon offered to bet that *any* statistic that measured human welfare would
improve over the next ten years. Erlich offered to bet on several
statistics, among them the carbon dioxide content of the air, and Brazilian
air pollution rates. Simon refused to bet on CO2, saying that it was not
clear that the composition of the air was related to human welfare in any
way. I forget how he got out of the Brazilian air pollution one.

Frankly, I think Simon made an offer that was far too open. As far as I can
tell, air pollution is *popular* in Brazil, because the current boom in
industry is making lots of poor people rich, and rich people richer. The
usual historical pattern is that after people have been rich for a while,
they get fed up with bad air and do something about it. But Erlich is
almost certainly right that it will be worse in ten years than it is now.
There are lots of statistics that Erlich could have picked; he just has to
choose a small enough area, and pick a statistic that measures a problem
produced as a by-product of something that lots of people want.