Interview 1107 – Pierre Desrochers Explains the Bet of the Century

by | Nov 6, 2015 | Interviews | 8 comments

In 1980 economist Julian Simon bet biologist Paul Ehrlich that the price of five commodity metals would decrease over the next 10 years. Today on the program Pierre Desrochers of the University of Toronto Mississauga joins us to explain how the bet came about, who won, and what was really at stake. Along the way we learn about depletionism versus resourceship, how lack of imagination leads people toward hysteria and failed predictions, and why the human brain is the greatest resource of all.


No limits to growth: Simon vs. Ehrlich

The Simon-Ehrlich wager 25 years on

Corbett Report Radio 121 – Marc Morano vs. Paul Ehrlich

Ehrlich: “I wish I’d taken more math”

Master Resource


  1. Quite an interesting interview. While enforced scarcity and many other economic interventions create problems for the accurate determination of what Desrochers has to say, it seems plain enough that this is not the whole truth and much exception is likely to be found. I don’t know that anyone would describe some modern oil extraction methods such as fracking as furthering the economic benefit of all concerned. Of course if peak oil does become a problem for mankind alternatives like agenda 21s may come into play. A note on population numbers. In the western world and some other areas population numbers would be in serious decline if not for immigration; requiring 2.2 live births per women to maintain a steady population where numbers are generally below 2 live births and often now getting closer to 1 live birth per women of child bearing age. Other areas such as Africa still see population numbers increasing but the overall trend across the planet is a definite slowing of increase from the exponential of the 20th century. All in all a good listen….

  2. I agree that human resourcefulness and technological innovation have great power to change our world, but I am wary of technology as a silver bullet. To say that there is no carrying capacity for humans, because we’re so innovative, is a mighty stretch. Yes, advanced technology could turn around the numerous environmental crises civilization has created, but so far, it has not been used that way. Depletionism, as he calls it, is not relevant in a society that lives within the budget of their natural economy, like indigenous people, as nature is indeed abundant and all that we need replenishes itself constantly, but in culture of empire, where whole forests are clear cut, mountain tops are removed,and topsoil is washed away to sea, depletion is a serious concern.

    I’m not saying we have to cut population (though I’m convinced we could, without too much heartache, through voluntary means); I’m just saying we have to address the decline of certain vital resources. We can’t act like we’re not depleting the topsoil, the aquifers, the oceans of fish, or the amazon of trees. These are serious problems, and while technology will play a huge role in solving them, it will only do so once we get our act together and change our cultural value system.

  3. Dear James, I am all verklempt. This was very provocative and disturbing, although I understand your views on climate, now. I disagree that there are only two choices, a medieval misery (although a food forest might be nice) or your guest’s extractive dystopia. I can see small communities living in tipis or yurts, with renewable energy and sensible transportation. pretty simple but not either choice you gave. With lots of heart, soul, and mind.

    also your guest speaks about trading with other species? I thought I had heard wrong. Well in these “trades” I think the other got the bad deal. What about non-aggression and no stealing?

    Also, I implore you all to ponder some things:
    1. Big creative human brains can rationalize anything, so be careful when using it.

    2. We need a brain big enough to direct our heart. (We can’t have TBTF brains.)

    3. No bird or squirrel or spider has ever built a bomb or gone around comparing brain size, as if size mattered.

    • “TBTF Brains.” Love it.

      We can all stand to keep that in check. After all, We aren’t the One that designed this world.

  4. Interesting discussion. I have several angles of response:

    1) As relates to the BFP Roundtable about “what can we do”, I think we should at least consider Julian Simon’s marketing inventiveness. He knew his theory wasn’t to the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” liking but he cleverly figured a way to try to get this story into the collective conscious. I also tie that into what he said toward the end of the podcast about how a lot of people in academia had never even heard a differing opinion to “Malthusianism” (I forget the terminology he used so I’m sticking w/ “Malthusianism”). Once they heard these differing opinions they were open to them.

    In my comment on your “what can we do” podcast I was mentioning how Alex Jones might be more clever than given credit for as he at least tries to get concepts out there. And even if he’s an easy target to be made fun of, at least he allows people to “safely” bring up certain topics in conversation (“that wacko believes…”). I still am thinking about the idea of if a bunch of 9/11 truthers did something that would “stick out” to New Yorkers (e.g. marched every single day down a certain street chanting “9/11 was an inside job” – though probably something a lot better than that), whether the same effect could play out. In other words, would people in office buildings nearby talk about the “crazies” (again, allowing them to “safely” bring up the topic) and then maybe a water cooler conversation would be like “have you ever talked to any of them? They said ___ and I looked it up and it turned out to be true. I’m not saying I agree w/ them but it’s still interesting”.

    In short that would be the “breaking through the conditioning” that AJ talks about. And maybe I’m wrong in my thoughts here but I at least wanted to bring it up.

    2) I wonder if someone who would call me a conspiracy theorist made me the same bet. I’ve been predicting (and this is basically what I’ve learned from Peter Schiff/Ron Paul, etc) that gold and silver will go up (priced in USD) in the next 10 years. I think probably almost everything will go up in USD actually due to money printing. Obviously certain prices do go up over time (and admittedly Desrochers said that in certain decades Simon would’ve lost the bet and that price was an imperfect gauge to begin with).

    Let’s say I made that bet 4 years ago and I chose a 4 year time period (as Simon gave the option of “any time period longer than 1 year”). Obviously, gold and silver have dropped significantly in the past 4 years so I would lose the bet. I’m sure I’d counter-argue that the time period in question wasn’t long enough. But, hey, that’s exactly what Ehrlich is saying in his own defense.

    For the record I’m a believer in Simon being correct and Ehrlich being incorrect but I’m just saying that we have to apply the same line of reasoning we use against others against ourselves as well.

    3) I am a believer in not destroying the environment. Stuff like fracking genuinely concerns me (as I believe it pollutes our water, land and probably air). But fracking can certainly be pointed to as “the ingenuity of the human brain that helps make oil prices cheaper”.

    Another such example is GMOs. I think Desrocher talked about how we are able to produce more food nowadays (and I wonder how much of that is from GMOs).

    We’ve heard for a while that GMOs are necessary to feed 3rd world populations. I recently talked to a friend of a friend who works in marketing. One of the things he works on is promoting Monsanto. I joked “that must not be easy”. He replied back with (and I’m a little fuzzy about the exact specifics but this is pretty close): “well I’ve seen an entire crop of corn grown without a single drop of water” and how that would help feed people in arid lands. The guy seemed like a genuinely good and sincere person to me as well. He also drove an electric car so I truly think he believes in what he talks about.

    I’ve even heard Ron Paul speak about nuclear energy in a positive light (can’t quite remember the specifics on this one either but I remember being surprised when I heard it. I think he was saying it’s at least an option that should be looked into).

    Not sure how to reconcile stuff like this. I generally like free market ideas but what about cases where it causes damage to the environment and people will die from it? Sure you can argue there will be lawsuits but do we really want to have this type of thing be “retroactive”? (e.g. a lot of people die and then there’s a lawsuit that prevents the thing from being repeated going forward). Plus isn’t it naive to think that a little guy can win against the lawyers of corporate giants? (though I guess cigarettes are a counter example to my point – though it took decades).

    On the other side of that coin, being “proactive” allows those with ulterior motives to try to push false agendas (e.g. “global warming” – which I believe is a false agenda and “sustainable cities” or whatever they’re called).

  5. Thank you both. This has given me a better understanding of how humans thrive or demise in relationship to the resources we use to make our lives easier, more comfortably and accomplish task. I’m better off for taking the time to listen to this interview.

  6. Quick correction, @ 03:01 — Penn State is not an Ivy League school.

    Most people living in Pennsylvania think it’s a State school, (funded by the Pennsylvania), including many students, but it’s not even that. It’s a private institution, realistically, more of a cult of sub-25-year-old townies living in the woods with no real contact to the rest of the world, getting drunk and unconsciously learning collectivism.

    • Quick Reply (much later) to a Quick (Partially Incorrect) Reply:

      Penn State is a state school part of the Pennsylvania State University Commonwealth system.

      University of Pennsylvania, Penn or UPenn, as it is called, is the 6th oldest University in the country and is, indeed, an Ivy League school founded in 1755.

      At the risk of making this longer than a quick reply, where do you get off describing a school, which you obviously know little to nothing about, as “a cult of sub-25-year-old townies living in the woods with no real contact to the rest of the world, getting drunk and unconsciously learning collectivism”? Not really up to the quality of most corbettreport comments, if I may say so.

Submit a Comment


Become a Corbett Report member