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The Quality of Paul Ehrlich's Character


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Jul 19, 2012
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This is a review of a book about Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon called The Bet. Ehrlich is the author of The Population Bomb, a book that predicted that the world would run out of food and people would start dying of starvation by the 1990s or so. Sabin was an economist who thought Ehrlich's reasoning was stupid beyond belief. Ehrlich had predicted that necessary commodities would become scarce, so Simon bet him that he was wrong, predicting that a list of 5 commodities would be no more expensive in 10 years than they were at the time. Ehrlich got to choose the 5 commodities. In brief, Simon won the bet and he's been winning it ever since. Ehrlich was wrong about the commodities and about the world's food supply and has been wrong in every one of his predictions since then. Nevertheless, it is testimony to the intellectual bankruptcy of the left/environmentalists that he is still held in high esteem by that group.

Ehrlich was trained as a biologist and specialized in butterflies before he got into doomsaying. He has always been blind to human innovation, technocracy, and economics and has always been impervious to contrary facts and evidence which is why he is so often wrong.

Ehrlich remains popular with environmentalists apparently because he feeds their narrative about evil humans plundering the earth and overtly supports their agenda of getting rid of humans. He remains popular with leftists because his solutions to these so-called problems are invariably to put more power into the hands of government elites to do the "necessary" things, like getting rid of humans. Never mind that his predictions are an almost perfect inverse barometer of what's going to happen. They think he ought to be right. If he's not right then it's because of bad luck, like that guy Borlaug who came along and fed the masses with his Green Revolution:

"The Bet" is filled chockablock with Mr. Ehrlich's outbursts—calling those who disagree with him "idiots," "fools," "morons," "clowns" and worse. His righteous zeal is matched by both his viciousness in disagreement and his utter imperviousness to contrary evidence. For example, he has criticized the scientists behind the historic Green Revolution in agriculture—men like Norman Borlaug, who fed poor people the world over through the creation of scientific farming—as "narrow-minded colleagues who are proposing idiotic panaceas to solve the food problem."

Mr. Sabin's portrait of Mr. Ehrlich suggests that he is among the more pernicious figures in the last century of American public life. As Mr. Sabin shows, he pushed an authoritarian vision of America, proposing "luxury taxes" on items such as diapers and bottles and refusing to rule out the use of coercive force in order to prevent Americans from having children. In many ways, Mr. Ehrlich was an early instigator of the worst aspects of America's culture wars. This picture is all the more damning because Mr. Sabin paints it not with malice but with sympathy.

Ehrlich is apparently a role model for many in the environmental movement both in terms of his lack of civility and his lack of scientific skill.
The illustration of exponential population growth was important, and done over 40 years ago. Overpopulation has lead to many problems in many places. Attack his jackassery all you want, but TPB was and remains significant.
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