I’d like to second my colleague Fred’s birthday wishes for the distinguished economist Bruce Yandle of Clemson University. Prof. Yandle was the guest of honor at CEI’s most recent annual dinner and reception, and he gave a moving speech when he became the 15th winner of the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award.
Yandle paid tribute to the award’s namesake, Julian Simon, a theorizer and popularizer of an inspiring set of ideas about human worth, ability, and resiliency.
It is such a special honor to have my name associated with Julian Simon’s rich legacy. After receiving CEI’s Greg Conko’s call, telling me that I had been selected to receive this reward, my mind immediately went back to the 1970s and 1980s, which were the heydays of Julian Simon’s work.
I went through my library and found Julian Simon’s The Ultimate Resource, second edition, and read the book from cover to cover again. As I read through the book, I thought about my own personal experience during the 1970s and early 1980s and realized again what amazing years these were.
Yandle also laid out the intellectual context that Simon’s ideas were born into.
It was a time when the world seemed hostile to free market ideas, if not to freedom itself. It was a time when the intelligentsia were convinced that we were running out of everything. Oil was at the top of the list along with gas, copper, iron, you name it. It was food. It was arable land. We were running out of everything but one thing: people.
According to the critics, we were just overrun with people. People were the problem. Scarcity was being discovered. And we had a serious problem. It would be the end of Western civilization as we have known it. Sound familiar? Somehow there had to be some controls put in place to limit our unfortunate behavior as human beings.
Fortunately, Simon and his allies had a healthy spekticism about the wisdom of the self-apointed intelligentsia.
Julian saw scarcity as the prelude to plenty when markets are allowed to operate. He insisted on looking at data. (What a strange idea!) And he didn’t know what the data would tell him, but as he probed, he discovered we didn’t seem to be running out of anything except common sense. And people? People were the ultimate resource. The free spirit of men and women form the solution to our problems if we allow markets and property rights to function in a somewhat positive way. When Julian published these ideas, he was pummeled by the intelligentsia. They couldn’t stand it. The end-of-plenty advocates saw their cause as being right versus wrong, good versus evil.
Julian Simon fanned the coals of freedom just as CEI has done since 1984, when Fred and Fran and Sam Kazman unfurled their flag up on Pennsylvania Avenue. I remember seeing it and celebrating. How many people in the room tonight remember when CEI first put out the flag? That was the beginning of something wonderful. But as we celebrate, we cannot let up. Some things in life seem too good to be true. And what you are doing and what we are doing at CEI is one of those things.
It was a great honor having Prof. Yandle join us for our big event this year. Congratulations to him and the 14 previous recipients of the Simon Award.