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Paul Ehrlich
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
“If Simon disappeared from the face of the Earth, that would be great for humanity.”
Paul Ehrlich, Environmentalist and MacArthur Foundation "genius", on Julian Simon, a fellow academic to whom Ehrlich lost a famous bet.
Source: The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future, by Paul Sabin, Yale University Press, 2013
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AM: In a famous bet between Ehrlich and Simon, the former bet that commodity prices would rise as a result of increasing scarcity. He was completely wrong.


From the review: In October 1990, Mr. Ehrlich mailed a check for $576.07 to Simon. Mr. Sabin diplomatically reports that “there was no note.” Although world population had increased by 800 million during the term of the wager, the prices for the five metals had decreased by more than 50%.


And they did so for precisely the reasons Simon predicted—technological innovation and conservation spurred on by the market. Mr. Ehrlich was more than a sore loser. In 1995, he told this paper: “If Simon disappeared from the face of the Earth, that would be great for humanity.” (Simon would die in 1998.) This comment wasn’t out of character. “The Bet” is filled chockablock with Mr. Ehrlich’s outbursts—calling those who disagree with him “idiots,” “fools,” “morons,” “clowns” and worse.


His righteous zeal is matched by both his viciousness in disagreement and his utter imperviousness to contrary evidence. For example, he has criticized the scientists behind the historic Green Revolution in agriculture—men like Norman Borlaug, who fed poor people the world over through the creation of scientific farming—as “narrow-minded colleagues who are proposing idiotic panaceas to solve the food problem.”


Mr. Sabin’s portrait of Mr. Ehrlich suggests that he is among the more pernicious figures in the last century of American public life. The great mystery left unsolved by “The Bet” is why Paul Ehrlich and his confederates have paid so small a price for their mistakes. And perhaps even been rewarded for them. In 1990, just as Mr. Ehrlich was mailing his check to Simon, the MacArthur Foundation awarded him one of its “genius” grants. And 20 years later his partner in the wager, John Holdren, was appointed by President Obama to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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