Economics, Consequentialism

Remembering Julian Simon

Today would have been the 80th birthday of one of my deepest intellectual heroes and a man whose optimism about the future of humanity has become part of my intellectual DNA. I speak, of course, of the irreplaceable Julian Simon. Rob Bradley offers a really nice appreciation here.  I will only add that 45 of the most memorable minutes of my life was spent on a boat trip to St. Tropez talking with Julian (and my friends Pete Boettke and Dave Prychitko) a few months before his untimely death. He was gracious and indulgent and sparkling with the three of us young punks and I’ve tried since then to interact with students and young scholars with the patience, respect and time he gave us.

I think that Julian’s work is of central importance to the BHL project.  What he demonstrated is that freedom is the precondition for human progress, and that this progress uplifted not just those at the top but particularly the least well off among us.  It also shows that the increasing wealth of the Western world has not, and need not, come at the expense of the poorer parts of the world.  Economic growth is a positive sum game and leads not to an increasing scarcity of resources and more difficulty in improving the lot of humanity, but to a world of abundance and longer, better, lives for all.

At a time when too many wrongly interpret the data to argue that we are destroying the planet and then conclude we need to expand the state to protect the world’s poor from the rapaciousness of the West, Julian’s work is more important than ever.  And it is important to both the “bleeding heart” and the “libertarian” parts of BHL.  He has shown us that the wealth that freedom brings us does not come at the long-term cost of destroying or over-populating the planet and condemning the rest of the world to poverty in the process.  That empirical reality has to be part and parcel of any attempt to persuade other bleeding hearts of the value of libertarianism to their project.  Julian’s books should be at the top of the stack of recommended reading for those who disagree with libertarians’ preferred means to our shared ends.

Julian was taken from us much too soon, but we have pages and pages of his work (a good hunk of it online here) to remind us that the world does indeed keep getting better as long as we leave people free to draw upon and deploy the ultimate resource: the creativity of the minds of the amazing creature we call homo sapiens. Thanks Julian for your own creativity, unflagging optimism, and deep intellectual courage in the face of those who tried to drag you down. You were a model for us all.

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Author: Steve Horwitz
  • Damien S.

    Dipping back in to link to http://davidbrin.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/is-libertarianism-fundamentally-about-competition-or-about-property/
    which strikes me as a much more convincing version of “bleeding heart libertarianism” or liberal-libertarian middle ground than most of the stuff I’ve seen here, I’m afraid.  Of course to a purist, Brin won’t be libertarian at all, with his (elsewhere) blatant acceptance of taxes (too low!) and safety nets.

    As for the actual post here… eh, I don’t want to get dragged in again.  Though, hmm, Brin’s post isn’t that off topic; he’s fairly scathing of the idea the ‘freedom’ by itself is all we need.  Necessary in good doses, but not sufficient.

    • Anonymous

      It’s delusional to think that transparency will ever flow from a coercive monopoly like the state. Sorry Damien, I don’t buy that garbage. Give transparency a better chance by getting rid of the state.

  • Those who follow Simon may please consider this FB page: 
    http://www.facebook.com/juliansimon.liberal

  • Anonymous

    Ah, yes, a direct descendant of Professor Pangloss if I recall correctly.

  • Much as I’d prefer to live in the world which Simon believes that we live in, I don’t find him rationally persuasive:

    http://www.mnforsustain.org/partridge_e_j_simon_and_perilous_optimism.htm