Julian L. Simon and Paul Ehrlich entered in a famous wager in 1980, betting on a mutually agreed upon measure of resource scarcity over the decade leading up to 1990. Simon had Ehrlich choose five of several commodity metals. Ehrlich chose copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten. Simon bet that their prices would decrease. Ehrlich bet they would increase.[note 1] Ehrlich ultimately lost the bet, and all five commodities that were selected as the basis for the wager continued to trend downward until 2002, when metal prices generally began to increase and at least the price of copper, tin, and nickel increased.
In 1968, Ehrlich published, The Population Bomb, which argued that mankind was facing a demographic catastrophe with the rate of population growth quickly outstripping growth in the supply of food and resources. Simon was highly skeptical of such claims. Simon proposed a wager, telling Ehrlich to select any raw material he wanted and select "any date more than a year away," and Simon would bet that the commodity's price on that date would be lower than what it was at the time of the wager...
Ehrlich and his colleagues picked five metals that they thought would undergo big price increases: chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten. Then, on paper, they bought $200 worth of each, for a total bet of $1,000, using the prices on September 29, 1980, as an index. They designated September 29, 1990, 10 years hence, as the payoff date. If the inflation-adjusted prices of the various metals rose in the interim, Simon would pay Ehrlich the combined difference; if the prices fell, Ehrlich et al. would pay Simon.
Between 1980 and 1990, the world's population grew by more than 800 million, the largest increase in one decade in all of history. But by September 1990, without a single exception, the price of each of Ehrlich's selected metals had fallen, and in some cases had dropped significantly. Chromium, which had sold for $3.90 a pound in 1980, was down to $3.70 in 1990. Tin, which was $8.72 a pound in 1980, was down to $3.88 a decade later.
As a result, in October 1990, Paul Ehrlich mailed Julian Simon a check for $576.07 to settle the wager in Simon's favor.
Analysis of why Ehrlich lost
According to Paul Ehrlich's website:
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