History of cornucopian thought

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This original article intends to track the publication history of cornucopian thought. Cornucopians are thinkers who claim any of the following:

  • Human population can grow indefinitely and human ingenuity will make sure resource availability will catch up.
  • Human population growth increases availability of human ingenuity and thereby increases natural resource availability.
  • There are no natural resources.
  • Natural resources are not finite in any practical sense.

Cornucopian thought defies physics. Since, assuming continuous growth of human population of about 1% a year, the total human body mass would reach:

  • The mass of all the Earth's freshwater in about 1,900 years.
    Basis: the initial population of 8,000,000,000 (8E9), 1% growth a year (multiplier 1.01), the mass of the Earth's freshwater of 4.2E19 kg and the mass of a human of 60 kg. Since, 8E9 * 60 * 1.01 ^ 1900 yields over 4.2E19.
  • The mass of the Earth in about 3,050 years. (Mass of the Earth: 6E24 kg.)
  • The mass of the Solar System in about 4,400 years. (Mass of the Solar System: 2E30kg.)
  • The mass of the universe in about 12,000 years. (Mass of the universe of 1E60 kg.)

Thus, even if one assumes unlimited supplies of energy and near-magical conversion of matter from one form to another including transmutation of chemical elements (e.g. iron to gold and silicon to hydrogen), the available mass is a hard limit to population growth to be hit far sooner than the Earth becomes uninhabitable for astronomical reasons.

Publication history of cornucopian thought:

  • In 1771, Nicholas Baudeau claimed that "the productiveness of nature and the industriousness of man are without known limits, that production can increase indefinitely, and that in consequence population numbers and well-being can go on advancing together."[1]
  • In 1798, William Godwin published An Enquiry concerning Political Justice[2]. A quote: "But, after having exhibited this picture, not less true than delightful, he [a certain author] finds an argument that demolishes the whole, and restores him to indifference and despair, in the excessive population that would ensue. One of the most obvious answers to this objection is, that to reason thus is to foresee difficulties at a great distance. Three fourths of the habitable globe is now uncultivated. The parts already cultivated are capable of immeasurable improvement. Myriads of centuries of still increasing population may probably pass away, and the earth still be found sufficient for the subsistence of its inhabitants. Who can say how long the earth itself will survive the casualties of the planetary system?" Thomas Malthus criticized this passage in his 1798 classic An Essay on the Principle of Population[3].
  • In 1879, Henry George published Progress and Poverty[4]. Quote: "That the earth could maintain a thousand billions of people as easily as a thousand millions is a necessary deduction from the manifest truths that, at least so far as our agency is concerned, matter is eternal and force must forever continue to act."
  • In 1981, Julian Simon published The Ultimate Resource. See W:The Ultimate Resource. The full text of version II is online. Quote: "The revised theory will suggest that natural resources are not finite in any meaningful economic sense, mind-boggling though this assertion may be. That is, there is no solid reason to believe that there will ever be a greater scarcity of these extractive resources in the long-run future than now. Rather, we can confidently expect copper and other minerals to get progressively less scarce."
  • In 1984, Julian Simon and Herman Kahn published a collection of studies The Resourceful Earth. Quote: "We are confident that the nature of the physical world permits continued improvement in humankind's economic lot in the long run, indefinitely."
  • In 1993, Peter Drucker published Post-Capitalist Society. A quote per Sagoff 1995: "Where there is effective management, that is, the application of knowledge to knowledge, we can always obtain the other resources. The basic economic resource—‘the means of production,’ to use the economist’s term—is no longer capital, nor natural resources (the economist’s ‘land’), nor ‘labor.’ It is and will be knowledge.”
  • In 1995, Mark Sagoff published Carrying Capacity and Ecological Economics[5]. Quote: 'Mainstream economists, such as James Tobin, Robert Solow, and William B. Nordhaus, typically state that nature sets no limits to economic growth. Trusting to human intelligence and ingenuity as people seek to satisfy their preferences and achieve well-being, these economists argue that people can “choose among an indefinitely large number of alternatives.” Resource Availability (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1963). They believe that the earth’s carrying capacity cannot be measured scientifically because it is a function or artifact of the state of knowledge and technology.'
  • In 1997, Mark Sagoff published Do We Consume Too Much? - The Atlantic[6]. Quote: "It is simply wrong to believe that nature sets physical limits to economic growth -- that is, to prosperity and the production and consumption of goods and services on which it is based. The idea that increasing consumption will inevitably lead to depletion and scarcity, as plausible as it may seem, is mistaken both in principle and in fact."
  • In 1998, Stephen Moore published Julian Simon Remembered: It's A Wonderful Life[7], libertarianism.org
  • In 1998, Frank J. Tipler published There Are No Limits To The Open Society[8]. Quote: "The laws of physics as we presently understand them place no ultimate limits to growth. The wealth of society can grow to become literally infinite at the end of time. [...] The key point is, if we have an unlimited supply of energy, we can manufacture an unlimited amount of anything we please. But the limits-to growth people claim that the Conservation of Energy Law prevents us from obtaining an unlimited amount of energy. This is not true." Refers to Ehrlich and Simon. Tipler is a physicist noted for his book The Physics of Immortality.
  • In 2008, Donald J. Boudreaux published The ultimate scholar[9], a tribute to Julian Simon. Quote: 'Indeed, there are no resources without human creativity to figure out how to use them and human effort actually to do so. Recognizing the truth of this insight renders silly the familiar term "natural resources." No resources are "natural." Take petroleum. What makes it a "resource"? It's certainly not a resource naturally. If it were, American Indians would long ago have put it to good use. But they didn't.'
  • In 2013, Donald J. Boudreaux published Coming to Terms with Rhetoric[10]. A quote: 'Take the term “natural resources” ([...]). This phrase suggests that some things of value to human beings occur naturally – without any human effort or creativity. But that suggestion is wrong. Nothing is naturally a resource; nature alone invests nothing with resourcefulness; ultimately, resources – all resources – are created by human beings. Nature creates raw materials, but never creates resources. Raw materials and human artifacts are made into resources only if, and only when, and only insofar as, human creativity figures out a way (or ways) to employ those materials and artifacts in ways that satisfy genuine human desires.'
  • In 2013, Mark J. Perry published There Are No ‘natural’ Resources, Only Raw Materials – ALL Resources Are Created Through Human Effort[11], aei.org. It does nothing but quote Donald J. Boudreaux. W:Mark J. Perry is a scholar at The American Enterprise Institute.
  • In 2014, Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler published Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.
  • In 2017, Jason Crawford published There are no natural resources, rootsofprogress.org
  • In 2018, Donald J. Boudreaux published There Are No Natural Resources, aier.org -- refers to Julian Simon. The author is a senior fellow with American Institute for Economic Research and with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
  • In 2018, Ryan Bourne published The Earth's Resources Are Limited, but Human Ingenuity Is Infinite, cato.org -- refers to Julian Simon. It further refers to Tupy and Pooley, quoting them to state: "The world is a closed system in the way that a piano is a closed system. The instrument has only 88 notes, but those notes can be played in a nearly infinite variety of ways. The same applies to our planet. The Earth’s atoms may be fixed, but the possible combinations of those atoms are infinite. What matters, then, is not the physical limits of our planet, but human freedom to experiment and reimagine the use of resources that we have." Ryan Bourne is R. Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics, Cato Institute.
  • In 2019, Joakim Book published Non-Renewable Resources Never Really Run Out[12], mises.org -- refers to Julian Simon
  • In 2022, Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Pooley published Superabundance[13], claiming that "the population growth and freedom to innovate make Earth’s resources more, not less, abundant". The section Praise for Superabundance of the book page at cato.org provides a list of candidate fellow cornucopians, including Angus Deaton, George Gilder, Steven Pinker, George Will, Jason Furman, Michael Shellenberger, and Matt Ridley. More candidate fellow cornucopians praising the book can be found on superabundance.com, including Jordan Peterson, Paul Romer, Deirdre McCloskey, Andrew McAfee, and Balaji Srinivasan. In the book summary, the authors endorse Julian Simon's claim that "Our supplies of natural resources are not finite in any economic sense." The authors see a larger population as more of a solution than a problem, in the Simonian spirit: "The more people the planet has and the more freedom they enjoy, the greater the likelihood that new good ideas will be generated to tackle current and future problems."
  • In Oct 2022, Marian Tupy published Freedom and abundance[14] article, with the subtitle "How global population growth ignites increases in resources and ideas".

See also[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]