There was a review in The Wall Street Journal last week of the new book The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth’s Future, which covers the Simon-Ehrlich wager (you know, the one where population doomsdayer Paul Ehrlich lost to economist Julian Simon regarding the dropping price of commodities). As the WSJ explains,
Mr. Ehrlich was allowed to select the five commodities that would be the yardstick…As they settled on their terms, Mr. Sabin notes, Messrs. Ehrlich, Holdren and Harte “felt confident that they would prevail.” They didn’t. In October 1990, Mr. Ehrlich mailed a check for $576.07 to Simon…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.
Ehrlich’s reaction to the lost bet is instructive:
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. As Mr. Sabin shows, he pushed an authoritarian vision of America, proposing “luxury taxes” on items such as diapers and bottles and refusing to rule out the use of coercive force in order to prevent Americans from having children. In many ways, Mr. Ehrlich was an early instigator of the worst aspects of America’s culture wars.
When it comes to political disagreements, try a little more evidence and a little less name-calling.