“The world’s problem is not too many people, but a lack of political and economic freedom.”

Today commemorates the 89th anniversary of the birth of Julian Simon, who died 23 years ago this week. It was Simon who recognized energy as “the master resource” and identified human ingenuity as the “ultimate resource” behind, among many other things, expanding mineral energies.

In an age where one energy-related “existential threat” replaces another, revisiting Simon’s worldview is timely.

The Master Resource

“Energy is the master resource, because energy enables us to convert one material into another. As natural scientists continue to learn more about the transformation of materials from one form to another with the aid of energy, energy will be even more important….

For example, low energy costs would enable people to create enormous quantities of useful land. The cost of energy is the prime reason that water desalination now is too expensive for general use; reduction in energy cost would make water desalination feasible, and irrigated farming would follow in many areas that are now deserts. And if energy were much cheaper, it would be feasible to transport sweet water from areas of surplus to arid areas far away.

Another example: If energy costs were low enough, all kinds of raw materials could be mined from the sea.” (The Ultimate Resource 2 [1996]: 162)

Energy Optimism

“It’s reasonable to expect the supply of energy to continue becoming more available and less scarce, forever.” (The Ultimate Resource 2, 181)

“… there is no reason to believe that the supply of energy, even of oil, is finite or limited.” (The Ultimate Resource 2, 58)

“… the Earth is not a closed system…. So with respect to energy there is no practical boundary surrounding any unit of interest to us.” (The Ultimate Resource 2: 79)

Optimism Generally

“Discoveries, like resources, may well be infinite: the more we discover, the more we are able to discover.” (The Ultimate Resource 2: 82)

“Humanity has necessarily evolved so that we have more of the nature of creators than of destroyers—or else the species would have died out long ago. People seek to improve their conditions, and therefore on balance people build more than they tear down and produce more than they consume. Hence each generation leaves the world a bit better in most respects than it begins with.” (Hoodwinking the Nation [1999]: 52)

The Ultimate Resource

“The ultimate resource is people—especially skilled, spirited, and hopeful young people endowed with liberty—who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefits, and so inevitably they will benefit the rest of us as well.” (The State of Humanity [1995]: 27)

“Human beings create more than they destroy.” (The Ultimate Resource 2: 580)

“Adding more people causes problems. But people are also the means to solve these problems. The main fuel to speed the world’s progress is our stock of knowledge; the brakes are our lack of imagination and unsound social regulations of these activities. (The State of Humanity: 27)

Problems and Betterment

“Material insufficiency and environmental problems have their benefits, over and beyond the improvement which they invoke. They focus the attention of individuals and communities, and constitute a set of challenges which can bring out the best in people.” (The Ultimate Resource 2: 587)

“We need our problems, though this does not imply that we should purposely create additional problems for ourselves.” (The Ultimate Resource 2: 588)

Public Policy

“The world’s problem is not too many people, but a lack of political and economic freedom.” (The Ultimate Resource 2: 11)

“The extent to which the political-social-economic system provides personal freedom from government coercion is a crucial element in the economics of resources and population…. The key elements of such a framework are economic liberty, respect for property, and fair and sensible rules of the market that are enforced equally for all. (The State of Humanity: 26)

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