Posted by: erichosemann | February 8, 2010

Julian Simon

I’m being totally honest when I say I had no idea that today was the twelfth anniversary of Julian Simon’s death.  Here’s the wikipedia page for him.

I mention my unawareness only because I  had the urge to get The Ultimate Resource 2 out and page through it just last Thursday.  I’ve never read it, but as I said before, Simon’s was a household name for me, and I’d discussed his ideas with Dad quite a bit as a kid.   The book sat on my shelf, essentially neglected since I got it from my father.

Little did I know that, hidden within my copy of The Ultimate Resource 2 was a draft of a brief introduction my Dad gave at a dinner given in tribute to Simon a few months after his death.  I liked it, and I’d like to share it here:

John K. Hosemann, Chief Economist and Director, Public Policy Division
American Farm Bureau

Julian Simon Tribute, Union League Club of Chicago, June 10, 1998

Thank you. I’m honored and humbled by my assignment today. Think of where we would be as a people dedicated to liberty and responsibility had Julian Simon not been born! He worried about the elitist notion of too many people! So much of what Julian Simon is all about is captured in the preface to his book, The Ultimate Resource 2 where he writes about himself and his values. I’d like to read a brief passage:

“One spring day about 1969, I visited the U.S. AID office on the outskirts of Washington D.C. to discuss a project intended to lower fertility in less-developed countries. I arrived early for my appointment, so I strolled outside in the warm sunshine. Below the building’s plaza I noticed a road sign that said ‘Iwo Jima Memorial.’ There came to me the memory of reading a eulogy delivered by a Jewish chaplain over the dead on the battlefield of Iwo Jima, saying something like, How many who would have been a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein have we buried here? And I thought: Have I gone crazy? What business do I have trying to help arrange it that fewer human beings will be born, each one of whom might be a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein–or simply a joy to his or her family and community, and a person will enjoy life?

I still believe that helping people fulfill their desires for the number of children they want is a wonderful human service. But to persuade them or coerce them to have fewer children than they would like to have–that is something entirely different.”

His point, without stating it so, was that population controllers represent the ultimate in central planner arrogance!

To think of additional human beings as assets, not liabilities, drove Julian Simon’s critics and adversaries up and over the intellectual wall. But he had the facts to make his case and they did not!

I’m one of those ordinary people (who Paul Ehrlich didn’t get to stamp) who has, like the rest of you, tried to take advantage of opportunities that came my way–because I was born free! My only hope and wish is to protect that freedom for my own children. Julian Simon has helped me and them with his work and his optimism. Dr. Simon was not a “farm” economist. Thank God for that! He, above all else, saw the big picture of what really makes the world progress–human intellectual capacity and ingenuity and freedom and respect for private property.

He understood and wrote extensively about all the things that farmers worry about–land, water, food, population, energy, natural resources, and technology.

He made real clear the role of free people to problem solving of any kind especially in the natural resource and environmental debate. He taught us all to think deeper, question deeper, and document deeper. His own intellectual curiosity, creativity, and hard work have given us lay people a substantial backstop against the arguments in favor of population control, more regulations and economic austerity. What a treat to be reading Simon’s work only to find a straight-forward graph on the next page that made everything so abundantly clear.

To me one of the most important points he made to those of us who will try to carry on his ideas was captured in this quote: “the intellectual practice of focusing on a very short period which runs against the long-term trend–but which fits one’s preconceptions–has been the most frequent cause of error in understanding the relationship of natural resources to population growth and human progress.”

Seeing as how our own political economy is stuck forever in the short run paradigm and worsening each day with policy by poll-taking, we have a huge challenge to shift the policy debate to the longer term trends on major policy issues.

I discovered Dr. Simon’s work in the early 1980s. We had one phone conversation about an issue I was struggling with. I wanted to know if I had understood what he was talking about. (I can’t even remember the issue…) But I remember his kindness and patience with me over the phone. What a gentleman!

Thank you Dr. Simon for giving us the durable analytical framework–economic liberty, respect for property, and fair and sensible rules of the market enforced equally for all–for defending against the pessimism, doomsayers, controllers, and short-runners. We are forever in your debt!

Thank You!

A fitting tribue.  God Bless You, Julian Simon.

For more on Simon, go to the Master Resource.


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