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No limits to growth

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In 1968 Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich burst into American popular consciousness with his best-selling book, The Population Bomb. Like many doomsayers before him, he argued that in a world of finite resources, the biggest slices of pie get cut at the least-crowded table and that a reduced population would leave each individual a greater share of scarce resources.  Because low hanging fruits are always picked first, resources would become more difficult to access and more expensive over time. Increased population and consumption would unavoidably result in greater environmental degradation.

While Ehrlich’s arguments were nothing new, he was especially good at communicating them. Among other achievements, he became a regular fixture on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show because of the confidence he exuded in turning up the volume on apocalyptic predictions. “The battle to feed all of humanity [was] over,” he said in no uncertain terms.  Soon hundreds of millions of people would die no matter what emergency measures were adopted. Things were so bad he was even willing to bet England would not exist by the year 2000.

Because humanity’s only options were either planned decline or utter collapse, he called for drastic measures such as mandatory sterilization, temporary infertility (achieved through pills or tampering with public drinking water), draconian restrictions on immigration, triage (selecting a small number of survivors out of a mass of doomed individuals) and tying food aid to strict population control measures. And if his diagnostic and prescriptions were wrong, he argued, fewer people would enjoy more resources per capita and the environment would be better off.

Ehrlich mailed Simon a cheque to the amount of $576.07, but never acknowledged the superiority of Simon’s theoretical outlook

On this day 25 years ago, however, Ehrlich’s apocalyptic rhetoric was dealt a crushing blow by economist Julian Simon who argued that humans are not only mouths to feed, but also hands to work and brains to think up new solutions.  Prior to the emergence of humanity, Simon and others had long pointed out, the Earth was replete with fertile soils and hydrocarbon and mineral deposits, but there were no resources. It was human action that turned otherwise useless physical stuff into valuable things, a process that could go on forever as it was ultimately powered by the always renewable and expanding human intellect. Creative and entrepreneurial populations could thus grow almost indefinitely as, building on past advances to which they added new ideas, they would find ever better ways to feed themselves and improve overall standards of living.  Any notion of natural limits or “carrying capacity” was therefore nonsensical.

Proponents of what is sometimes labeled “resourceship” observed that a population that engages in trade will deliver greater material abundance per capita than more self-sufficient individuals and communities. (In other words, one hundred people who specialize in what they do best and trade with each other will produce and consume far more than one hundred times more what one individual would on his own.) The more human brains, the greater the likelihood of new beneficial advances. So while the cream of mineral deposits would always be skimmed first, advancing technologies insured that profitable resources would be created out of previously valueless, perhaps even inaccessible deposits. Other things being equal, a smaller population would never achieve the standards of living delivered by a greater number of brains and producers. And in a functioning market economy, a rise in the price of a commodity will always spontaneously motivate economic actors to look for more of it, use it more efficiently and develop substitutes.

Simon was so confident in his beliefs he argued that “people in the future will live longer lives than they do now, with higher incomes and better standards of living, and the costs of natural resources will be lower than at present.” Because his message was falling on deaf ears, however, the economist, who was also a serious poker player with a background in marketing, cooked up in 1980 an offer Ehrlich couldn’t refuse by offering to bet $10,000 over a period of at least one year that the cost of non-government-controlled raw materials would not rise in the long run. Ehrlich and his regular collaborators John P. Holdren and John Harte quickly agreed to [theoretically] buy $2,000 each of chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten on September 29, 1980 and to pay Simon the price difference (adjusted for inflation) on September 29, 1990 if the prices had gone down. Simon, on the other hand, would cover the difference if the prices had gone up.

Between Ehrlich’s chosen dates, the world’s population grew by more than 800 million individuals while standards of living rose. In spite of this, the prices of all the commodities he had selected fell – from 3.5% for copper to 72% for tin – as, just as Simon had predicted, new deposits were brought into production and new substitutes created. Ehrlich mailed Simon a cheque to the amount of $576.07, but never acknowledged the superiority of Simon’s theoretical outlook.

But while its outcome was extremely favourable to Simon, the terms of the bet made it possible for his opponents to dismiss its relevance because of the volatility of commodity prices and alternative time-frames (such as a different 10-year period) that would have favored Ehrlich, the alleged ecological irrelevance of commodities (as compared to the destruction of natural capital), and claims that Ehrlich simply got his timing wrong in terms of apocalyptic outcomes.

Truth be told, if Simon believed that the scarcity of any given commodity could be measured by “a price that has persistently risen,” he was well aware of the cyclical nature of commodity markets and that the odds were on his side rather than certain. He would ideally have bet on better indicators of material well-being such the relative weight of any commodity in one’s budget or the price of final goods in terms of real wages. For instance, an American worker earning the average wage in 1920 would have required approximately an hour of work each to pay for a pound of bacon, a pound of butter or a dozen oranges. His counterpart in 2015, however, only requires about a fifth of that time for each commodity. By these more sensible indicators, Ehrlich would have been soundly defeated on virtually every commodity over any time period, yet it is doubtful he would have taken Simon’s bait.

Ehrlich and other green activists also remained oblivious to the fact that the correlation between standards of living and pollution level is overwhelmingly in the direction of “richer is cleaner.” Suffice it to say that in 1990 the much richer United States had become increasingly wealthier and cleaner over time while centrally planned economies like the Soviet Union had stagnated or even regressed while becoming increasingly polluted. This is because what ultimately matters in terms of “sustainability” is not so much the number of people or their wealth, but the kind of institutions they live in and the technologies they use and keep on developing.

While Ehrlich is still well rewarded for conveying his apocalyptic message, deep down he must be grateful for the fact he ended up living in Julian Simon’s world. And so should we.

Financial Post

27 Comments on "No limits to growth"

  1. makati1 on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 9:00 pm 

    Another huge pile of bullshit from a mouthpiece of bloody red Wall Street and the Banksters.

    The US became ‘cleaner” by shipping their pollution to Asia, not by cleaning up their factories at home. And they are richer by printing their wealth in the trillions of dollars, not by growth or a real economy.

    Financial rags should concentrate on spreading lies about their own industry, not doing book reviews.

  2. Davy on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 9:14 pm 

    Article said “This is because what ultimately matters in terms of “sustainability” is not so much the number of people or their wealth, but the kind of institutions they live in and the technologies they use and keep on developing.”

    That is rubbish. Number of people and the consumption absolutely matter. The kinds of institutions and technologies matter if that population is within a sustainable and resilient envelope. Technologies and institutions are what should keep us out of overshoot. In our case they put us into overshoot and now we are facing a bottleneck. In other words technology and social structures matter when not in overshoot. Nothing matter if in overshoot. It may be a timing issues but eventually the ecosystem will crash even with the best of institutions and technologies. Institutions and technologies are no match for nature at the earth/climate level or major ecosystem level like the ocean or vast rain forests. The more you apply technology and institutions to controlling nature the more you separate yourself from that which supports life. This is a game we play and in our case the game is over. We are not going to pass go, we are heading to jail, and our money is worthless.

  3. BC on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 9:25 pm 

    This kind of sophistry and misinformation is what pays, so those of us spending our spare (wasted?) time trying to inform can never hope to reach more than an infinitesimally small minority, or plurality, even though a plurality of those being paid for the BS misinformation know better.

    Therefore, what pays is to know what’s really going on and to use that information to be paid to sell the fallacious counterfactual.

    But that is the nature of sophistry.

    Oh, well . . .

    “And so it goes . . . “

  4. apneaman on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 10:37 pm 

    Even if Every Nation Meets Its Pledge to Fight Climate Change, We’re Still Fried

  5. apneaman on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 10:45 pm 

    Assessing the Human Toll of Volkswagen’s Diesel Deception

  6. Plantagenet on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 11:05 pm 

    Its not just happening in the United States. The whole world has been getting richer and richer

  7. makati1 on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 11:15 pm 

    Plant, you are obviously reaching peak stupidity evidenced by your imperial pronouncements, without a bit of evidence. Would you tell the EU bound refugees that they are getting richer? Or maybe the Bangladeshis or the Central African citizens?

    And, how about the 47 million on food stamps in the US? Real incomes in the US have actually contracted over the last 20 years. True, some Asian countries are still improving, but they are stalling out also. Only the .001% are getting richer, and you ain’t one of them.

    Must be very comforting to live in your world. No worries. No thoughts about preparing for the real future. No thought at all.

  8. onlooker on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 11:18 pm 

    First guys thanks for chiding this article as the piece of garbage it is. Figures it is from a financial organization. Do not need to elaborate more as you guys already stripped this garbage down for what it is. I guess this is why we continue posting do dispel the utter lies and deception being spewed in articles such as this one. The number of people and wealth do not matter for sustainability. I could laugh so much it hurts.

  9. onlooker on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 11:20 pm 

    Oh and the title is appropriate “No Limits to Growth” more like no limit to the stupidity of this statement.

  10. Boat on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 11:27 pm 

    Great link Plant

  11. apneaman on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 12:11 am 

    It’s no big deal because according to the Financial Post you are super rich now and can afford it.

    Obama Promised Healthcare Premiums Would Fall $2,500 Per Family; They Have Climbed $4,865

  12. yukonfisher on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 12:19 am 

    The first job I got when I arrived in Yukon, at entry level wages, in 1979, paid me enough to buy a pack of smokes and six beer in the pub with one hour of wages. An entry level job now would not buy you even one pack of smokes, and only two beer at the pub.
    Thank goodness I no longer smoke, and that I no longer rate entry level wages. So Simon was wrong, but it depends on what you use for your metrics.
    Another metric- I could buy a brand new 3/4 ton 4X4 (practically mandatory gear here) for six months earnings in 1979. Now it takes me a year. At an entry level wage it would take four years to earn enough to own a truck.

  13. apneaman on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 12:30 am 

    Boat, you think Hans Rollings is awesome? He is an entrepreneurial hopium pusher. His fake enthusiasm is so over the top that he makes Oprah look like a pessimist. And he is completely full of shit. You and planty just love to get Brightsided (look it up). Most TED talks are a fucking joke. Here are two TED talks that should say it all to anyone with half brain. If you and planty put your heads together you might just qualify.

    Banned TED Talk: Nick Hanauer “Rich people don’t create jobs”

    “As the war over income inequality wages on, super-rich Seattle entrepreneur Nick Hanauer has been raising the hackles of his fellow 1-percenters, espousing the contrarian argument that rich people don’t actually create jobs. The position is controversial — so much so that TED is refusing to post a talk that Hanauer gave on the subject. National Journal reports today that TED officials decided not to put Hanauer’s March 1 speech up online after deeming his remarks “too politically controversial” for the site…”.

    What’s Wrong with TED Talks? Benjamin Bratton at TEDxSanDiego 2013

    Benjamin Bratton, Associate Professor of Visual Arts at UCSD and Director of The Center for Design and Geopoltics at CALIT2, asks: Why don’t the bright futures promised in TED talks come true? Professor Bratton attacks the intellectual viability of TED, calling it placebo politics, middlebrow megachurch infotainment, and the equivalent of right-wing media channels. Does TED falsely present problems as simply puzzles to be solved by rearranging the pieces?

  14. onlooker on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 12:36 am 

    Just more cornucopian wishful thinking platitudes. Good to continue to brainwash the brainwashed not so good to provide us doomers an epiphany.

  15. apneaman on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 12:43 am 

    yukonfisher, that was the most awesome cost of living comparison I ever heard. Real everyday shit that happens to real working people. The kind of thing an economist or BAU mouth piece will never talk about.

  16. theedrich on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 3:38 am 

    Ah yes.  More wisdom from the Financial Post.  From the same type of people who refuse to recognize that what they call “externalities” are suffocating the biosphere.  Ehrlich’s timing is off, it is true.  But the Malthusian clock continues to tick.  The planet is accumulating vast numbers of precisely the type of people who destroy our life support systems:  the semi-civilized and uncivilized creatures that know little else but how to breed and to demand alms from Whitey.  Many people on this blog think they should be given their demands.  Why do these commenters think such self-destructive things?

    Let us take an example.  The apeman has let us know that he prefers dark meat to copulate with.  Hence it is clear that an important part of his brain resides in his gonads, whence his hatred for Whites.  He is, however, not unusual, since the elites’ iron control over the media easily manipulates the masses, especially through subliminal techniques.  Those elites tend to belong to a special club.  Canada’s political system is strongly influenced by the same Levantine billionaire who runs Seagram’s, the alcohol operation.  Other members of the Chosen People play similar bribery roles in Europe, especially Germany.  In the U.S., it is obligatory for all politicians to swear fealty to Yidland, that tribe’s Promised Land.  (But one example of their obedience to those masters is America’s creation of the current war in Syria to get rid of — you guessed it — “another Hitler,” this one named Assad.)

    Given the age-old Christian propaganda about how Whites must obey a Hebrew god, in the Christian brain it follows that Chosenites must be considered hallowed above all other cultures and peoples.  Not even a black POTUS can change that mentality, no matter how hard he tries.  All the myths of the Bible (such as that of the garden of Eden with a talking snake, etc.) are taken as literal reports of actual events.  Likewise, “good Christians” believe the twisted fable of an “exodus” from Egypt (where the truth is that the Egyptian empire withdrew from Canaan in the second half of the twelfth century B.C., creating a power vacuum for a new ethnicity to arise.)  Never mind the enormous ideological and theological impact that Persian Zoroastrianism had on the ex-captives returning from Babylon after Cyrus the Great had conquered it.  Then there is the Greek mystery-religion idea of a dying and rising god which absorbed the tale about a resurrected Jesus and became Christianity.

    The puissant subterranean ideation that all this created in the European mind led to the genosuicidal fantasies now dominating Western civilization.  Even Communism is a kind of Judæo-Christian “heresy.”  It demands that all infidels be either subjugated or slaughtered.  Out of this cauldron came the Bible-reading Abraham Lincoln, who gloried in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of his own race to purify it.  Similarly, Woodrow Wilson, Ph.D., loved the “war to end all wars” where he could murder so many Germans, then steal their land and give it to others.  Never mind FDR or the British “mad bomber” Harris who loved carpet-bombing German cities.  And the countless Chosenites who were Stalin’s willing executioners in helping to murder millions of Russians and Ukrainians in a frenzy of “creative destruction.”  Oh how the liberals and leftists think back with such wistful nostalgia on those times.

    So never fear.  With the new “inverted totalitarianism” of today, political change is effectually impossible.  In Canada anyone who dares to suggest that the White race should be preserved from extinction is, depending on the relevant government functionaries, fired from his job, fined or imprisoned.  Like Europe, that country’s “libel laws” have made all serious dissent impossible.  In Germany, there is a Verfassungsgericht (Constitutional Court) whose main function is to destroy any Germans who want Germany to survive.  The system in France is different in structure but has the same effect.  All this is mightily reinforced by the religious leadership that insists Whites commit suicide en masse so that we can enjoy unspecified postmortem pleasures in planet heaven.

    There is, therefore, no prospect whatsoever of Whites avoiding extinction, a prospect which warms the cockles of the genosuicidists’ hearts.  Après nous, le déluge.

  17. Davy on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 5:20 am 

    Thee, whites and darks are going extinct. Hunger is an equal opportunity killer. Maybe your spiel could be argued back in the 30’s but not now. We are all going down. Many will die in place because there is nowhere to go and soon mass transport will be over. Even the elites are screwed contrary to their belief and popular belief. It takes a global system to maintain the complexity they need. That will be over soon. You are lost in your multiple levels of abstraction caught in the race trap.

  18. JuanP on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 6:04 am 

    As far as I am concerned to believe there are no limits to growth on a finite planet requires one to be unbelievably stupid and/or ignorant. If there are no limits to growth then we can have 999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999 humans living in this planet and a quintillion times that number, too, and a quintillion times that, and so on ad infinitum.

    If you believe that is possible, you must be seriously mentally challenged in one way or another. Enough said! Arguing with these people is a complete waste of time, they obviously lack the intellectual capacity to understand the problem.

  19. Kenz300 on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 9:55 am 

    Endless population growth is not sustainable.

    Around the world we can find a food crisis, a water crisis, a declining fish stocks crisis, a Climate Change crisis, an unemployment crisis and an OVER POPULATION crisis.

    Ocean Fish Populations Cut In Half Since The 1970s: Report

    Birth Control Permanent Methods: Learn About Effectiveness

  20. penury on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 10:15 am 

    I suppose that from the point of view of the 1 per cent things have never been better. The vistas they see for their children are limitless. Cognitive disconnect is not only a condition of the poor. I do not see how anyone looking at the world economy today cannot see the changes coming. Mass migrations from South to North. Right now they are powered by military action but, famine is approaching. From where I sit there are no mitigation efforts that will work. Game over.

  21. Jerry McManus on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 1:34 pm 

    A planet full of “useless physical stuff” until, that is, all of us insanely clever humans came along and magically turned it all into “resources”.


    Never has there been a more perfect description of exactly why we, as in the entire species, are utterly and totally stuffed.

  22. Bob Owens on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 1:48 pm 

    This article is SO STUPID! Glad I didn’t read much of it.

  23. Bandits on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 3:49 pm 

    Bob the second last paragraph says a great deal. He doesn’t understand that total pollution is increasing every year. CO2 concentrations, ocean acidification, lake and river pollution, deforestation, species extinction, arable land declining, humans increasing their number by 80 million annually and on an on…..The USA similar to all other developed countries export their pollution. The USA still burns coal, oil and gas at peak levels.

  24. theedrich on Wed, 30th Sep 2015 2:49 am 

    Davy, I’m not sure what you mean by your “multiple levels of abstraction.”  I have just written that we Whites are going extinct.  And after us the rest will follow, since there will be no one left to give them alms out of Christian “compassion.”

    My point is that this self-annihilation is deliberately willed, and both caused and justified by Christianity and its otherworldly fantasies.  I know that this fact is abhorrent to most, but it is still a fact, just like the fact of biospheric destruction for momentary fun and games.  Our limits-ignoring mass psychosis is what is driving us over the edge, not some technical failure such as not employing “sustainable growth” or not buying the right electric car.  It is the White man’s deadly cocktail of Christianity, mechanistic materialism and assisting ThirdWorld overpopulation (“development”) which has chosen this path.  No accumulation of argumenta ad hominem insults or even argumenta ad baculum used by bribe-ocratic governments is going to stop our train ride to death.

  25. Davy on Wed, 30th Sep 2015 6:53 am 

    Thee, the posse coming to collect their booty will not care in the least about religion, color, or socio-economic status. There will be no location to hide from the wrath of Mother Nature as climate change reshapes all locations and food chains. My point is in this new reality your arguments are mute.

    Descent is an equal opportunity killer. Brown and white die for the same reason. Overconsumption dependence and overpopulation lead to the same unsustainability. A smaller white populations that is dependent on higher consumption is as at risk as as overpopulation we see in the brown world. Ecosystem destruction is widespread and global effecting all regions white and brown. There is no hiding white of brown, rich or poor, and Christian or Muslim. Some will fare better than others in the fall but not much.

    We are all dead men walking in walking failed states. I might add we were all apart of getting here where we are at. No one stood up and said no. All apes wanted prosperity at any cost. It is a few like the indigenous Kogi of Columbia that stood up and said “stop you are killing our mother”

    Going to a higher level than that it is just our evolutionary dysfunction of a large brain. Earth ecosystems have no place for large brains. Nature will eliminate us from the equation by allowing us to eliminate ourselves. Nature is about balance and we are about imbalances. Nature is in charge so who is going to win?

  26. theedrich on Thu, 1st Oct 2015 2:13 am 

    Yes, Davy, you are correct in saying that the whole of homo sapiens is going down the tubes.  My point is the cause of this disaster.  We would never have come to this state if Whites had not been entranced by Christianity and its extremism in “compassion”.  Virtus stat in medio.  Virtue stands in the middle.  I have been told of at least one pregnant woman who, afflicted with a cancer being fed by her pregnancy’s elevated estrogen, was told by her Catholic bishop that she could not have an abortion without committing grave sin and going to hell.  So she obeyed her bishop and consequently died.  The same thing is happening to the White race.

    From the dark races all we hear is “Alms, o great White father, give us alms.  (So that afterwards we may slit thy throat.)”  We cannot refuse alms to those types or we will go to hell, saith Christianity.  The consequences are obvious.

    Paleoanthropologists tell us that the non-African versions of mankind emerged from Africa probably around 50,000 years ago.  Until about 15,000 years ago our numbers were very small because we engaged in constant genocidal warfare.  Then around 10-15K years ago a genetic change occurred, according to the scientists, which enabled tribesmen to view strangers from a different tribe as “honorary” members of their own.  This made trade possible, then towns, cities and, eventually civilizations.  The change was neither universal nor instantaneous.  Some types (e.g., the denizens of inner-city Chicago) seem not to have inherited much of it yet.

    At this point, the entire Third World is dependent on the White world.  When a disaster happens in W3, it’s Whitey to the rescue.  This “compassion” is just as self-defeating as the attempt by our idiot POTUSes to “regime-change” the world, using “Christian values” to justify their insane aggression.  Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria give us some idea of just how brilliant this tactic is.  We are currently in Syria and inundating Europe with brownies and blackies because Israel told the U.S. to invade Bashar Assad’s land and oust him.  Madmen such as John McCain (who never saw a war he didn’t like) are pushing for yet more such insanity, using the same old technique of Christian compassion to push us back into war, this time against Russia.  If the Christian mask were dropped, there would be at least some chance of letting the ThirdWorlders die off on their own en masse and giving the earth a slight chance to breathe.  But the billionaires who own our government will not let that happen.  It would be bad for business.

  27. Davy on Thu, 1st Oct 2015 7:20 am 

    Thee, my point is any descent will bring us all down. We will all die off either by overconsumption dependence overshoot (rich) and or overpopulation overshoot (poor). Most urban areas are a mixture of both. My other point is who care about who is to blame. We are all to blame and no one is to blame. I did not ask to be conceived. I make a conscious decision to drive a car so I am part of the killer car culture. The blame game is useless. It is interesting for academic argument but for practical purposes we need to be adapting in place because the world is going local quick.

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