A Child Comes With His Bread
The principal inspiration behind what I am referring to as the “title” of this essay and the basis for my argument comes from the Romanian proverb “copilul vine cu painea lui.” My goal is not to refute Oreskes’s claims per se. It is rather to deny the claim that she identifies Julian Simon as representative of an unpopular misunderstanding of Simon’s argument and to make clear what is not clear in Oreskes’s assertion. While this title and the proverb that it is linked to are not just unusual but also consistent with the idea of Oreske, it is, in fact, prompted by a caption from an earlier edition of the book by Ehrlich, which reads as follows: “While you are reading these words, four people will be dead of hunger. A majority of them children.” Even though this dire prediction was proven incorrect, as Professor Oreskes admits, does this mean that Julian Simon automatically vindicates it? It is “no,” but not because Simon was mistaken. Instead, as I argue in a recent essay (Candela 2022), the reason lies because neither Simon’s supporters nor his critics have captured the essence of the arguments Simon was arguing within “The Ultimate Resource” (1981). In delving into the proverb that is cited in this article, we can discover the arguments Julian Simon had argued.
Every proverb, including the one used here, is based on folk wisdom and should not be taken as literal. It is intended to convey a subtle but crucial point. Children are not born from the womb of their mother with bread. As all parents are aware, the birth of a child results in a deficiency of resources as they are brought into the world completely as consumers of resources. Globally, it is quite an issue. But the message the proverb is supposed to communicate, which everyone Romanians are aware of and a signpost to Julian Simon’s entire idea–is that there’s both the supply as well as a demand aspect to having children. The birth of a child prompts parents to put in more effort to conserve resources and discover ways to consume more time with their children due to the limited supply of the most precious resource: time itself.
Increased population and incomes cause resources to become scarcer in the short term. The increased scarcity leads prices to rise. These higher prices create opportunities and encourage entrepreneurs and investors to look for solutions. A lot of them fail to find answers, which is costly to them. In a free society, some solutions eventually come up. In the end, the changes put us in better shape than if the issue were not present. The result is that prices decrease compared to before the increase in scarcity (emphasis the source; Simon, 1981 [1996Simon, 1981 , page. 60).
Also, consider, for instance, the commercial applications of Kerosene as a source of illumination and heating, which was caused by the discoveries of petroleum from which Kerosene is made. Although petroleum could have existed physically, the notion of the term “natural resource” can be viewed as an investment due to the limited supply associated with its discovery stems due to its physical structure having multiple human uses. Thus, if there is no human discovery there, there is no natural resource of any kind to speak of. To take this towards its logic, an aging population could mean a decrease in natural resources. Not the reverse like critics of Simon might suggest. Why? In the same way, the introduction of Kerosene was the growing scarcity of whales to be used for commercial purposes, causing the price of whale oil to be the highest. The increase in the cost of whale oil enticed entrepreneurs like John D. Rockefeller to find alternatives to whaling oil.
It also raises another but related point which was raised from Oreske: “Let populations grow alongside markets operating under minimal government constraints, and people will invent solutions to whatever problems they face.” Julian Simon, no doubt, was an advocate for economic liberty. However, Oreske’s assertion requires debating because it is unfair to attribute this statement in direct reference to Simon. Why? Simon himself has, at the very least, explicitly not made any direct claims regarding what he believed to be the causal connection between the growth of population, economic freedom, and economic development.