Hope WantednJulian L. Simon: The UltimatenResource; Princeton University Press;nPrinceton, NJ.nKen Auletta: The Underclass; RandomnHouse; New York.nby John Shelton ReednThe cover of Julian Simon’s bookntells the story: “Natural resources arengetting less scarce.” “Pollution in thenU.S. has been decreasing.” “Thenworld’s food supply is improving.”n”Population growth has long-termnbenefits.” The Ultimate Resource is andebunking book, new-style. The conventionalnwisdom is wrong: the endnisn’t at hand. Simon’s argument is easynto summarize, much harder to evaluate.nHis economics is a cheerfulnscience preaching a sort of supply-sidenenvironmentalism. The ultimatenresource is human ingenuity. Thanksnto that, straight-line extrapolationsnhave always been wrong and, Simonnbelieves, will continue to be wrong.nNew problems bring forth new and unpredictablensolutions; demand canncreate its own supply. An importantncorollary is that population growth increasesnthe pool of ingenious humannbeings and hence the number andnvariety of solutions both to old problemsnand to the new problems produced,nfor example, by populationngrowth.nThe argument is much more closelynreasoned and much more persuasiventhan this summary. Simon illustratesnhis point with examples from an amazingnvariety of times and places, and thenbook is written in a style as close tonwords of one syllable as its subject matternallows. Simon is a fine writer andnJohn Shelton Reed is professor ofnsociology and American studies at thenUniversity of North Carolina, Chapelnmi.n24inChronicles of Culturenrhetorician, and I came away persuaded.nSimon has also persuadednhimself: he wagers $10,000 that anbasket of raw materials will be cheapernin the future than it is now. His putup-or-shut-upnchallenge to the doomsayersnis made only slightly less impressivenby the fact that there will be nonone around to collect if their worst-casenpredictions are realized. Of course, ifnpast performance is any guide (to usenSimon’s characteristic mode of argument)nthose predictions will he wrong.nPredictions of apocalypse are one commoditynfor which supply has surely outpacedndemand of late; some prophetsnhave been foolhardy enough to givenspecific dates for catastrophe: for examplenFamine—1973.nSimon’s argument ultimately restsnon faith—or, if that’s too strong anword, confidence—that we can cope innthe fiature, as we have in the past. It’s anreasonable premise. Our species’ recordnof coping with what look like unfavorablenuends or even with calamitous discontinuitiesnis indeed heartening. Butnwhen we face known problems with solutionsnthat are merely hypothetical andnpossibly unknowable, many of us reactnlike Wall Street contemplating supplysidenfiscal policy: we get nervous. Hownmuch more comforting to know what’snin store (or at least, as Simon wouldndoubtless insist, to believe incorrectlynthat we know). That comfort has a value:nsome might find a predictable future, ornthe illusion of one, preferable to one thatnis optimal in some other terms.nPerhaps this reflects our fallen nature.nSimon’s faith that the species will providenis empirically grounded, but itnsuperficially resembles the faith that thenLord will provide. Simon’s injunctionsnare like the biblical ones to take nonthought for the morrow and to let thenevil of the day be sufficient thereunto:nhard sayings, with which only fools andnheroes can be entirely at ease. The sort ofndynamic, fluid, “open-systems” worldnthat Simon describes may be an accuratenpicture of reality—it is certainly more invitingnthan Paul Ehrlich’s view of thenfuture—but only an economist couldnlope it.nHowever, even if we could know whatnwhat sorts of solutions ingenuity will provide,neven if those solutions could bencounted on to produce a situation betternin some ways than what we have now,nthings wouldn’t be the same. Continuitynis a special case of predictability, andneven harder to assure. In part, the reasonnis that holding one element constant requiresnthat others be manipulated; forninstance, the sort of coercion necessary tonarrest population growth would itself benan obnoxious innovation. (One ofnSimon’s great services is to show how anyncourse of action, including inaction, isnrooted in values. He clarifies those whichnare implicit in a number of the choices wenm mma^2^n^v>; Bin^^ffM^iei^^^m^yy^MffB’^J^^^nXTXTTAX*XTÂ¥IÂ¥TTTTXTTTX1XXXXÂ¥XTX’nnn