Julian Simon, R. I. P.
Jude Wanniski
February 12, 1998

 

Memo To: Website browsers, fans, clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Julian Simon

Over the years, I'd spoken to Julian Simon many times by telephone, but I'm certainly glad I got to meet him, shake his hand, and feel his vitality at Ed Crane's CATO picnic last summer in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. I'd had a few living heroes, and with Simon's passing Sunday a day short of 66 years, I have one fewer. Julian, a professor of business administration at the University of Maryland, was the purest optimist about the future of civilization that I'd ever known -- the gold standard of growth economists. Because he was so disciplined in his research, he was able to single-handedly outgun the armies of neo-Malthusians of the past 30 years who had made such headway in persuading conventional wisdom that population was outstripping natural resources and that growth had to stop. One convert he could never make was Vice President Al Gore.

In the WSJournal Wednesday, Ben Wattenberg has an op-ed eulogizing Julian, "Malthus, Watch Out." There is also an obituary in today's NYTimes, "Julian Simon, 65, Optimistic Economist, Dies." Neither of them mention Julian's arguments on race, which is what brought me into frequent telephone contact with him in recent years. At a time when practically all my white friends were allowing that there may be something to the "Bell Curve" idea that intelligence is transmitted genetically and that perhaps people of color really are inherently inferior just a little bit Julian was alone at the mountaintop pointing out arguments on why this is all nonsense. The fact that he had devoted the last 25 years of his life studying the development of human intelligence enabled him to speak with confidence that there is zero correlation between intellectual potential at conception and skin pigmentation. I remember him saying once, "How do you explain the fact that parents with very high IQs can produce offspring with Downs' syndrome?"

Why are such men important? Because the rest of us need someone we trust to do our thinking for us on such matters and speak out loudly and clearly when everyone else is crying doom. We need an ultimate optimist who is not afraid to be alone in his views, just as we need an ultimate pessimist. Lester Brown, president of the World watch Institute in Washington, D.C., may not be the ultimate pessimist, but he is close. Yet he expressed some admiration for Simon in the Times obituary: "Most biologists and ecologists look at population growth in terms of the carrying capacity of natural systems. Julian was not handicapped by being either. As an economist, he could see population growth in a much more optimistic light."

Julian will be missed, but to put the most optimistic spin on his death, I'd say God put him on this earth at exactly the right time, when he was most needed to help guide mankind through a mini-Dark Age. Now that we've passed through, he can go on to the reward he so richly deserves.