THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE by Julian L. Simon

THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this latest contribution to the rancorous Spaceship Earth boom-or-doom debate, Professor Simon (Economics and Business Administration, Univ. of Illinois) presents a simplified but still highly technical version of his 1977 text, The Economics of Population Growth--with expanded sections on world population. Part I deals with the economics of raw materials, food, energy, and pollution; Simon sides firmly with Herman Kahn et al., maintaining that resources are in effect limitless: as short-term stocks run out, ever-increasing technical expertise will enable more resources to be discovered and exploited. The price of raw materials and energy, Simon continues, has in real terms fallen steadily and will continue to fall as new technologies come forward. And if it's more economic to exploit resources such as trees rather than recycle trash, then that's what we should do; Simon's solution to the resulting mountains of garbage is, characteristically, to wish it upon our descendants (""Later generations may find dumps profitable sources of recyclable materials""). On food, Simon believes that the world picture is improving: Third World countries are better fed today than ever before, and reports of severe famines in Africa or Asia are bloated media hypes of small-scale, transitory phenomena. On the loss of agricultural land to other pursuits: no need to worry, there's always more land; and as for wildlife species threatened with extinction, ""why not just put them in a few big zoos?"" On pollution, Simon reasons that we get exactly as much pollution as we are not prepared to pay to prevent; and, according to his ""best measure of pollution, human longevity"" (the correlation is not immediately obvious), pollution must be decreasing since life expectancy continues to rise. Part II deals with increasing populations: growth in the more developed countries has entirely beneficial effects, Simon argues: more people means more technical expertise and greater problem-solving potential, an expanding economy and thus greater riches for ali; moderately increasing populations in less-developed countries also have positive economic effects (the few negative effects have been overestimated); unfortunately, most LDCs show high, not moderate, rates of population growth (he is forced to admit that India, at least, is a special case). Since ""people are the ultimate resource,"" and population restrictions are bad all round, Part III is a diatribe against national and international organizations attempting to control or stabilize world fertility levels. It is late in the book, indeed, before Simon stumbles out with his anthropocentric, utilitarian world-view: ""Resources in their raw form are useful and valuable only when found, understood, gathered together, and harnessed for human needs."" Nowhere does he demonstrate any understanding or concern for ecology, population genetics, or social realities; he describes environmentalists as insincere killjoys riding bandwagons to political power. A perfect recipe for no-holds-barred capitalism--period.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press