Posted: 2020-10-12 20:17:15

Revisiting the Simon-Ehrlich Wager 40 Years On

From Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Pooley at Quillette
Originally published 2020 10 12
In fact, that’s exactly what has happened to the affordability of 50 basic commodities between 1980 and 2018. Over those 38 years, the world’s population rose from 4.458 billion to 7.631 billion or 71.2 percent. Over the same time period, basic commodities, including energy, food, materials, and metals became 71.6 percent more affordable on average. For every one percent increase in population, in other words, resources became slightly more than one percent more abundant. Put differently, the time it took to earn enough money to buy one unit in that basket of 50 commodities in 1980 bought 3.62 units in 2018. The compounded growth rate of abundance came to 3.44 percent per annum. That means that the affordability of our basket of commodities doubled every 20.49 years. This relationship between population growth and resource abundance is deeply counterintuitive, yet it is no less true. The facts surprised us, and they will surprise you too.
Our research into Time Prices and resource abundance began when we looked at updating the famous wager between the late University of Maryland economist Julian Simon and the Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich. The wager was based on the inflation-adjusted prices of five metals: chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten, and lasted from October 1980 to October 1990. Ehrlich predicted that because of population growth, metals would become more expensive. Simon argued that because of population growth, metals would become cheaper.
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