Human Progress

Earth Is Nearly 520 Percent More Abundant Now Than in 1980

Thanks to the ultimate resource: the human mind

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Good news: The Earth was 518.98 percent more abundant last year than it was in 1980.

So says the latest edition of the Simon Abundance Index, which tracks the relative availability of 50 fundamental commodities over time. The index, which was first unveiled last year by Marian Tupy of the Cato Institute and Gale Pooley of Brigham Young University–Hawaii, was inspired by economist Julian Simon's famous win over population bomber Paul Ehrlich in a bet on whether the prices of a basket of non-renewable resources would rise or fall between 1980 and 1990. They fell by more than 50 percent, and in 1990 Ehrlich mailed Simon a check for $576.07.

In constructing the index, Tupy and Pooley first measure the "time price" of that basket of 50 commodities—that is, the amount of time that a person has to work in order to earn enough money to buy something. They calculate this by multiplying the World Bank's average global GDP per person with the Conference Board's estimate of annual hours worked. Tupy and Pooley find that from 1980 and 2018, the average time price of the basket of 50 basic commodities fell by 72.3 percent. In other words, the time it took to earn enough money to buy one unit in that basket of commodities in 1980 bought 3.62 units in 2018.

Tupy and Pooley then use the time price of the commodities and the change in global population to estimate overall resource abundance. In their words:

The Index represents the ratio of the change in population over the change in the time price, times 100. It has a base year of 1980 and a base value of 100. In 2018, the Index reached a level of 618.98. That is to say that the Earth was 518.98 percent more abundant in 2018 than it was in 1980. The compounded growth rate of abundance came to 3.44 percent per annum, which means that the affordability of our basket of commodities doubled every 20.49 years.

Back in 1981, Simon argued compellingly that human minds are the ultimate resource. "There is no physical or economic reason," he wrote, "why human resourcefulness and enterprise cannot forever continue to respond to impending shortages and existing problems with new expedients that, after an adjustment period, leave us better off than before the problem arose."

Tupy and Pooley confirm Simon's insight by noting that between 1980 and 2018, the world's population increased by 71.2 percent. The time price of commodities fell by 72.3 percent. Consequently, the time price of commodities declined by 1.016 percent for every 1 percent increase in the world's population. In other words, over the last 38 years, every additional human being born on our planet appears to have made resources proportionately more plentiful for the rest of us.

Disclosure: Marian Tupy and I are co-authors of the forthcoming book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know.

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70 responses to “Earth Is Nearly 520 Percent More Abundant Now Than in 1980

  1. 1980 was awesome.

    1. Was that the year you lost your virginity?

      1. That was back before they required a consent form.

        1. Those were the days, my friend. I wished they’d never end [1975 for me; and I didn’t “lose” it but rather threw the fucker away as far and quickly as I could].

      2. no i was only 9 … still was fun times for a 9 y.o.

    2. That was the year I saw Led Zeppelin on their last tour. Or was that ‘78? Lot of things kinda lost in the happy purple haze those years.

    3. That was the year I saw Led Zeppelin on their last tour. Or was that ‘78? Blue Oyster Cult for sure and Pink Floyd somewhere in there, at least I think I was. Yup those were some good years dude.

      1. Double post. Or flashback
        Whoah

        1. Speaking of flashbacks….Seattle Center….the Dead…..blotter….grocery cart full of Bud….gorgeous summer night skinny dipping in Lake Washington. ’80 was a lot of fun.

      2. Double post. Or flashback.
        Whoah

    4. I vaguely remember 1980, something about whiskey and a ditch!

  2. Sure, for the next eleven years and two months it is.

    1. Damn! I came here specifically to post that!

      1. I thought it was 11 years and 7 months to go. Free time!

  3. Stupid. There is a serious problem with clean water. Ground water levels are much lower (by 10 of feet) in the Midwest where farmers are pumping out ground water to grow that food; not to mention top soil depth is also greatly reduced. In many third world countries these problems are even worse.

    1. Israel has solved that problem using advanced irrigation and recycling techniques along with crops requiring less water.

      They produce 95% of their own food needs and are food exporters now.

      All of that has been accomplished within a few generations so it can be done.

    2. ragebot
      May.31.2019 at 2:20 pm
      “Stupid….”

      One more neo-malthusian.
      Tell us about peak oil, ragebot. We all enjoy laughing at neo-malthusians.

        1. It is a theory.

          Begin with the idea that oil or other extracted fuels, are derived from decaying organic matter over many thousands of years turns into something you can extract from the earth and burn. The idea is there is only so much of it.

          That already is an over simplification and contested. There are theories that contest biogenic with abiogenic formation of hydrocarbons under the earth. We do not know the replenishment rate.

          The idea most people have is that as we continue to extract the easy to tap fields we will get to the point where it is less because we continue to demand on a curve. So the cost will go up to the point where our energy supply will exhaust itself.

          It is not true and not just because of what is under the ground. The unknown is human ingenuity and it is astonishing. Because there is cost in human labor or dollars if you will, we find ways to make better stuff. The LED lightbulbs you replace the old ones with. The more efficient washing machine, all of that because there is profit to be made in saving you cost and labor to produce whatever else you do.

          So with energy production. There are ways not only ways to tap untold reserves which Hubbert did not imagine, there are also ways to move forward which he could never have accounted for.

          1. Peak oil is based on the same combo of bad ‘green’ and bad econ as the Simon/Ehrlich argument.

            Most all potential energy sources on Earth are either solar energy from the past/present or some form of geothermal.

            Tapping into that (in whatever form – indirectly via oil/biofuel or directly via solar) and deploying it will over time tend to get cheaper because technology gets better and more efficient. That’s the good side and should always be encouraged. Ideally it should be encouraged via a pricing system that identifies/values the important things that technology needs to pay attention to and that can thus reward technological advance.

            The bad side is much of the long-term costs of say hydrocarbon combustion are simply ignored. Moving millions of years worth of sequestered carbon from the earth’s crust into the atmosphere in the course of a couple centuries is creating problems even tho R’s deny that. And those problems are NOT priced into the cost of oil combustion so technology is not going to be deployed to solve that problem until it is priced into combustion. And that’s a real problem if you are relying on the ‘technology will fix things’ assumption.

            1. More JFree bullshit:

              “Ideally it should be encouraged via a pricing system that identifies/values the important things that technology needs to pay attention to and that can thus reward technological advance.”
              If the gov’t quits screwing with it, we have such a system: It’s called ‘the market’.

              “The bad side is much of the long-term costs of say hydrocarbon combustion are simply ignored. Moving millions of years worth of sequestered carbon from the earth’s crust into the atmosphere in the course of a couple centuries is creating problems even tho R’s deny that. And those problems are NOT priced into the cost of oil combustion so technology is not going to be deployed to solve that problem until it is priced into combustion. And that’s a real problem if you are relying on the ‘technology will fix things’ assumption.”
              This is called ‘the precautionary principle’; total bullshit.

              1. No the market does not solve the problem UNTIL THOSE THINGS ARE PRICED.

                1. You can see an example from 130 years ago – the Johnstown flood. It was only after that flood that govt forced strict liability on property owners for the consequences to others of what they did on their land. Before that, one who was harmed had to almost prove bad intent in court. So before that liability was UNPRICED.

                  And it was because that liability was unpriced that the club/dam/lake owners had done stuff like
                  a)keep the reservoir full year round rather than just during dry season as the dam was designed – so that they could stock it with fish.
                  b)not maintain the dam in order to lower operating costs for the club
                  c)positively weaken the dam in order to provide better views for those riding carriages along the top.

                  Markets FAIL when externalities aren’t priced because MARKETS NEED PRICES TO WORK. They don’t work by magic. Of course you wouldn’t know that because you actually do believe markets work by magic.

                  1. JFree
                    June.1.2019 at 3:06 pm
                    “You can see an example from 130 years ago – the Johnstown flood. It was only after that flood that govt forced strict liability on property owners for the consequences to others of what they did on their land. Before that, one who was harmed had to almost prove bad intent in court. So before that liability was UNPRICED.”
                    That liability was priced at the time; the owners managed to skate. False anology.

                    “And it was because that liability was unpriced that the club/dam/lake owners had done stuff like
                    a)keep the reservoir full year round rather than just during dry season as the dam was designed – so that they could stock it with fish.
                    b)not maintain the dam in order to lower operating costs for the club
                    c)positively weaken the dam in order to provide better views for those riding carriages along the top.”
                    Bullshit; see above.

                    “Markets FAIL when externalities aren’t priced because MARKETS NEED PRICES TO WORK. They don’t work by magic. Of course you wouldn’t know that because you actually do believe markets work by magic.”
                    Markets deal with realities, not the ‘predictions’ of lefty dimbulbs.
                    Central planning, as you propose, does not work and if you need examples, you’re dumber than I thought.

                2. JFree
                  June.1.2019 at 2:50 pm
                  “No the market does not solve the problem UNTIL THOSE THINGS ARE PRICED.”
                  The market deals with reality, not your dimbulb fantasies

                  1. you really are stupid as rock snot aren’t you

                    1. JFree
                      June.1.2019 at 7:01 pm
                      “you really are stupid as rock snot aren’t you”

                      Called on your bullshit and that’s the best you got.

      1. These fuckers will never learn; what’s that word….oh yeah, Luddite.

  4. Except for ag, most of these resources are not more abundant. They have simply been moved from one place/form to a different place/form. NOTHING has been created and nothing has been destroyed either. The whole Simon/Ehrlich argument is two stupid sides arguing about the wrong damn thing.

    Saying that the cost of moving/processing them has gone down over time is partially duh and partially deceitful.

    Obviously technology can lower costs and improve efficiencies. Duh.
    Obviously costs go down if you just ignore costs that you want to ignore. Deceitful.

    1. Oh, boy! Another JFree low-watt post:

      JFree
      May.31.2019 at 7:56 pm
      Except for ag, most of these resources are not more abundant. They have simply been moved from one place/form to a different place/form. NOTHING has been created and nothing has been destroyed either. The whole Simon/Ehrlich argument is two stupid sides arguing about the wrong damn thing.
      Saying that the cost of moving/processing them has gone down over time is partially duh and partially deceitful.”
      No it is nothing of the sort. Making something more available in a particular location, indeed, makes it ‘more abundant’.
      Petroleum (as gasoline) at the corner station means that good is much ‘more abundant’ than when it was buried in the ground, with the possibility that Obo (at the time) would make producing it illegal. To pretend otherwise is to be pedantic, if not imbecilic.

      “Obviously technology can lower costs and improve efficiencies. Duh.”
      The point is clearly over your head. See above; a caveman can do it, try real hard.

      “Obviously costs go down if you just ignore costs that you want to ignore. Deceitful.”
      Care to translate that into English? It makes no sense to those of us not conversant in Proggy.

      1. “all that stuff he said”
        Translation. There is no justification for us taking away your freedoms if the article is true.
        So rambling bullshit posting.
        Welcome to the revolution.

    2. “Obviously costs go down if you just ignore costs that you want to ignore. Deceitful.”

      Oh! I checked Bing for Proggy-to-English.
      You mean the future costs which, in your fantasies, offset the current gains!
      That’s right. Proggies never consider positive externalities. That would suggest they STFU and leave the rest of us alone.
      Instead, claims of perfect predictions tell them (but not us) of horrible costs sometime in the future, and therefore, they require control of the economy today.
      Tell us, JFree, how’s your portfolio? Did you short Tesla last week?

      1. US will be irrelevant in most automotive technologies within 20 years. The fact that you think Tesla matters proves you are stupid. China is the main market (50% of the global) for that now and they are pricing that in their highly autocratic way. They separate license plates into electric v combustion – and limit/auction the combustion ones to highest bidder. They have 500,000 electric buses now compared to 1,000 in the US — 20,000 electric taxis in Shenzhen compared to 20 in NYC. Delivery vans are the next vehicle target – with private cars following when charging stations get built out (currently 300k there v 50k here). Govt is far too involved there – but the FACT is that technology is moving magnitudes faster there BECAUSE they are figuring out ways to price/reward technological improvement. That’s how MARKETS work – not that you would know that.

        BYD puts Tesla to shame – can produce electric vehicles for under $15k (still subsidized but that’ll end in a few years) and Warren Buffett (who’s a fuckload better investor than you) bought 10% of it. And other companies like BAIC, SAIC, JAC, GAC, Chery, JMC, Changan, Hawtai, Zotye, and Geely make it look very much like an ACTUAL free competitive market. Not that you would have the slightest clue what that looks like either.

        Europe is in a very distant second – and that’s where all the known auto companies are competing for the higher end consumer which will take time until charging systems get built out. Including Tesla which is selling almost as much in Norway as in the US.

        The US is – irrelevant and corrupt. In large part because you and the other assclowns are gonna make sure govt prevents a non-combustion market from coming into being here cuz you wanna deny reality. While the existing auto mfrs ensure govt does only what they want it to do.

        1. Maybe the fact that combustion engines are still the better option is why most people here, in a freer market, are buying them?

          I have little doubt electric is the future… But trying to force everybody to buy a mainframe in 1970 because “computers are the future man!” Would be as dumb an idea as subsidizing the sale of electric cars now.

  5. You know what else is more abundant since the 80s?

    Tom Selleck

    1. at least his ‘stache.

  6. Can’t spoil the narrative — the sky is falling.
    How will humanity ever adapt to slightly more pleasant weather?

    1. Just think how screwed we’d be if ten percent of doomsday predictions made over the past 30 years had come true.

  7. Most important takeaway – end the depletion allowance

  8. So the more the population grows, the cheaper things get?

    MAKE MORE BABIES NOW! In just a few more generations, we can all have everything we want for free!

    Or did I misunderstand?

    1. Why not?

      But the truth of it is that poor dirt farmers are less poor and dirt farmery now than in 1980. That’s basically what this captured.

  9. […] Earth Is Nearly 520 Percent More Abundant Now Than in 1980, by Ronald Bailey […]

  10. “The Earth was 518.98 percent more abundant last year than it was in 1980.”

    It’s poor distribution of food that leaves about a billion people suffering from malnourishment. Abundance of food or lack of it is not a problem. Celebrating abundance is absurd as long as some 30% of food produced goes to waste, imposing a cost on consumers middle men and producers.

    1. Wow. That’s a pretty silly response. Borderline non sequitur.

      1. Ok, despite the bizarre pivot to the writings of Lennin, you inspired me. So I went to google and asked it about malnutrition these days.

        And you know what I found? If there’s a number you’d like, there’s a website that will back it up.

        The UN says that 7 million people die every year from malnutrition. That seems like a lot. Others peg the number lower, but not terribly lower.

        But there are groups that say 9 million. And others that say 12 million. And even others that go with 36 million. Which is a really big number when you think about how many people actually die each year out of 7 billion humans.

        So I found a graph of malnutrition around the world. It looked pretty fancy and authoritative.

        Then I saw that it had the US suffering from malnutrition at rates comparable to China – which doesn’t seem likely, but isn’t entirely implausible – and Libya (what??) and Egypt… Norway?? Norway is far below us, but in the same group with…. the Dominican Republic and ….. Venezuela???…. OK, now they are just trolling. That site is right out.

        Still, the point was made. Malnourishment is a worldwide problem of some order of magnitude. And most everyone is full of crap discussing that order of magnitude in any real detail.

        And to your point – distribution is a real problem, more so than absolute abundance.

        There was a really good documentary about this with regard to Ethiopia. They had a huge famine because food from one end of the country never made it to the other end. Because of a lack of a market to send pricing signals to sellers.

        So a lady who was educated in the US went back and formed her own commodities exchange. She set up warehouses and electronic boards so that farmers could see spot prices. Poof, no more famines. And farmers began planting crops that pay better. So their lives got better. It was a pretty interesting story. Can’t recall the name though.

        1. Oh… the next site I clicked on pegged the number at 62 million deaths per year from malnutrition. Which is a pretty impressive number, with much less than a billion people suffering from malnutrition under the more pessimistic estimates. If nearly 10% of the malnourished die every year, this is kind of a self-solving problem.

          1. “Oh… the next site I clicked on pegged the number at 62 million deaths per year from malnutrition. Which is a pretty impressive number,”

            They have to die before they pique your interest? Think of the poor children, for heaven’s sake! Depriving a delicate child of precious nutrients during those formative years will lead to stunted physical and intellectual development. Effects that last a lifetime. Or is this also just a small cog in your self-solving problem?

            1. mtrueman
              June.1.2019 at 11:10 pm
              “They have to die before they pique your interest? […] Or is this also just a small cog in your self-solving problem?”

              More bullshit.

        2. “The UN says that 7 million people die every year from malnutrition.”

          But close to a billion are suffering from malnutrition according to FAO, just as I said in my silly non sequitur of a comment earlier.

          “So a lady who was educated in the US went back and formed her own commodities exchange. She set up warehouses and electronic boards so that farmers could see spot prices.”

          Believe me, farmers know the spot prices, even African farmers. Radio has been around for over a hundred years.

          ” Poof, no more famines. ”

          I’m talking about just plain old garden variety malnourishment here, Not famines. Malnourishment, as you point out, exists in places like USA, which have the world’s most sophisticated and largest market economies.

          1. mtrueman
            June.1.2019 at 11:03 pm
            ‘But close to a billion are suffering from malnutrition according to FAO, just as I said in my silly non sequitur of a comment earlier.’
            Cite missing, bullshitter.

            “Believe me, farmers know the spot prices, even African farmers. Radio has been around for over a hundred years.”
            Cite missing, bullshitter.

            “I’m talking about just plain old garden variety malnourishment here, Not famines. Malnourishment, as you point out, exists in places like USA, which have the world’s most sophisticated and largest market economies.”
            Cite missing, bullshitter.

            1. ” Cite missing, bullshitter.”

              Wikileaks, page 7. Near the bottom.

          2. BTW, given that you are justly famous as a bullshitter, you also need to start by defining “malnourishment”, since bullshitters like you tend to make up new definitions when called on their bullshit.

            1. “you also need to start by defining “malnourishment”,”

              You need to stop telling me what I need to start.

          3. Maybe malnourished people should stop being such lazy fucks and work harder? There is ZERO excuse for not being able to feed yourself in the 1st world. For those in the 3rd world it is tougher… But they are all improving pretty steadily, so it’s fine.

      2. People don’t go malnourished because of a shortage of food. There’s plenty of food.Given the 30% wastage it’s arguably too much.

    2. “It’s poor distribution of food that leaves about a billion people suffering from malnourishment.”
      Cite missing.

      “Abundance of food or lack of it is not a problem. Celebrating abundance is absurd as long as some 30% of food produced goes to waste, imposing a cost on consumers middle men and producers.”
      Cite missing.
      Bullshit claims from admitted bullshitters remain bullshit.

        1. mtrueman
          June.1.2019 at 11:12 pm
          “Wikileaks.”

          Wikileaks offers information rather than the bullshit you provide.
          Cite still missing, asshole.

    3. First you need to define terms and outcomes. I cannot do that.

      There are people who die or suffer because of starvation. Simply not enough food to sustain life or development. That still happens most often in war or famine and where emergency efforts should be focused first.

      There are people who have somewhat enough basic intake but lack essential nutrients because of local food supply. The effort there is to improve the resources and foods available.

      There are people who have more than enough around them yet still cannot sustain a diet without nutritional deficiencies. We often call that poverty. More difficult. Economic development tends to lift boats.

      Just a start.

      1. “Economic development tends to lift boats.”

        By producing 500 % more food than we need? No sir. Extra food is wasted food, and wasted food costs us all money.

        1. So? In a perfect world all resources would be so cheap and abundant that we could throw 99% of stuff away and everybody would still have plenty. THAT is the goal. Not to have to scrimp and save and give a fuck.

          All that is possible with technology and human brains too.

    4. Our goal should be to NOT GIVE A FUCK if we waste 90% of food, because it is so cheap and easy to produce it it doesn’t matter… And that will by default make it cheaper and more available to the poor and blow it cases the world over. I think with a lot of the advances in high tech farming coming down the pike we may well do it. Individual plant targeted fertilizer usage, automated picking, etc will all be badass for most people… Illegal Mexicans hardest hit though.

  11. If only those commodities weren’t being made into disposable tat we have to replace far more frequently.

  12. Thanks for sharing it – “The UN says that 7 million people die every year from malnutrition.”

  13. What most people don’t understand about economic optimism (the term itself is partly to blame) is that optimism isn’t the same as colloquial optimism, which could be unwarranted confidence for the future. Economic optimism is based in the reality of market dynamics and the invisible hand. When problems occur, people voluntarily adjust their behaviors. These changes are societally optimal (not ideal, but optimal), otherwise people would not have made them in the first place. Markets correct because people themselves correct.

  14. […] Back on Earth, the latest edition of Reason magazine reminds us that… ““Earth Is Nearly 520 Percent More Abundant Now Than in 1980”. Mostly due to human ingenuity, but also somewhat by accident. The article’s footer also […]

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