Skip main navigation

Hurry, only 1 day left to get one year of Unlimited learning for £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Julian Simon, environmental optimist

A brief look Julian Simon.
© Adam Smith Center, Singapore

Julian Simon was an American economist, born in 1932 and who died in 1998.

Simon was born on February 12, 1932. He earned a BA in experimental psychology at Harvard in 1953 and went on to earn an MBA (1959) and a PhD in business economics (1961) from the University of Chicago. He taught for a long time at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign before moving to the University of Maryland, where he finished his career.

He applied an economics lens to issues of population growth, economic development and resource use. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of his day, he believed that humanity was not limited by the physical constraints of the finite planet, and that population growth, could in the right conditions, be beneficial rather than harmful.

This optimistic view was based on his belief that the human mind, the fount of innovation, was the ‘ultimate resource’. Concerns of resource depletion are too often fixated on the physical nature and quantities of natural resources and overlook the fact that it was the human mind that made physical-natural resources valuable in the first place, and is the most foundational resource that mattered in the long run. By way of an analogy, it was the human mind – and scientific knowledge that arose from it – that made oil from the ground usable and valuable, and more than mere ‘black goo’ that no one knew what to do with.

Simon was not a naive idealist. His argument was not that resource depletion would never occur, but that under the right conditions, the human mind (which was the ultimate resource) would be able to discover new resources, find ways to conserve existing resources, and re-imagine new resource management strategies.

What are these conditions? In short, freedom. Human beings flourish under freedom, not compulsion. When humanity benefits from human rights, democratic institutions, the rule of law, and market freedoms, such innovations and progress are made possible.

© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
This article is from the free online

Overpopulation: Resource Depletion and Human Innovation

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now