Bruce Yandle's Remarks at the 2016 CEI Dinner
What a wonderful evening for me and for Dot. And I must tell you it is truly special to be introduced by a former student. Thank you, Todd, for your generous introduction. Can you imagine what it’s like to have Todd Zywicki in your classroom? It’s hard to tell who’s teaching that class, but Todd, we had some wonderful times together, and we still do.
As I stand here tonight, I realize that some things in life seem just too good be true. This is one of those times for me. I hope for everyone in this room, that there will be some event or occasion where you will say, “This is just too good to be true.” Having such experiences forms one of the rewards for living a long time. By the way, the list of rewards is not all that long. But as the years accumulate, you do get to celebrate some wonderful things. A few years ago, Dot and I celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary. And we did something very special. We went to the Dairy Queen!
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.
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.
Julian Simon would have nothing to do with these ideas.
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. We were in the Garden of Good and Evil, and they saw themselves as being on the side of the angels. And Julian? Well, he was definitely not an angel.
The intelligentsia took the moral high ground, calling for command-and-control regulation to address these problems. They, perhaps unwittingly, became the regulatory Baptists who provided cover and political justification for the bootleggers, industrialists who realized that command and control isn’t such a bad idea when it enables you to cartelize an industry or raise rivals’ costs by way of rules and regulations. And thus began the rise of the regulatory state.
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.
Thank you so much for this wonderful award.