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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Bet

In 1968 the biologist Paul Erlich and his wife published The Population Bomb, which became a bestseller and predicted that overpopulation would, in the very near future, lead to overconsumption, resource scarcity, and mass starvation. Erlich became something of an academic rockstar. He was well-spoken and funny, he went on tour, and appeared on The Tonight Show 20 times! Johnny Carson was quite impressed with him.

One person who wasn't too impressed was the economist, Julian Simon, who argued that human welfare would flourish thanks to flexible markets, technological change, and collective ingenuity. The debate between the two academics became quite acrimonious, and eventually Simon challenged Erlich to a decade-long bet (which Simon won). The bet is the subject of a new book by Paul Sabin ("The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future"), as well as a the topic of the latest Planet Money podcast ("A Bet on the Future of Humanity"). I haven't read the book yet (just learned about it this morning), but I did enjoy the podcast. I think many of you will too.

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