Julian Simon: The facts are fundamental.
Garrett Hardin: The facts are not fundamental. The theory is fundamental. - from a 1982 debate with the UC Santa Barbara biologist The doomslayer-doomsayer
debate, Simon thinks, is an opposition between fact and bad theory, a case of empirical reality versus abstract principles that purport to define the way things work but don't.
"It's the difference," he says, "between a speculative analysis of what must happen versus my empirical analysis of what has happened over the long sweep of history."
The paradox is that those abstract principles and speculative analyses seem so very logical and believable, whereas the facts themselves, the story of what has happened, appear wholly illogical and impossible to explain. After all, people are fruitful and they multiply but the stores of raw materials in the earth's crust certainly don't, so how can it be possible that, as the world's population doubles, the price of raw materials is cut in half?
It makes no sense. Yet it has happened. So there must be an explanation.
And there is: resources, for the most part, don't grow on trees. People produce them, they create them, whether it be food, factories, machines, new technologies, or stockpiles of mined, refined, and purified raw materials.
"Resources come out of people's minds more than out of the ground or air," says Simon. "Minds matter economically as much as or more than hands or mouths. Human beings create more than they use, on average. It had to be so, or we would be an extinct species."
The defect of the Malthusian models, superficially plausible but invariably wrong, is that they leave the human mind out of the equation. "These models simply do not comprehend key elements of people - the imaginative and creative."
As for the future, "This is my long-run forecast in brief," says Simon. "The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards.
"I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse."
But you don't have to be one of those people, one of those forever Glum and Gloomy Gusses. All you've got to do is keep your mind on the facts.
The world is not coming to an end.
Things are not running out.
Time is not short.
Enjoy the afternoon!
I got all this from randomly sifting through Wikipedia.