The Skeptical Liberal: 06/19/2005 - 06/26/2005

The Skeptical Liberal

How can we live together in peace, prosperity, and harmony, while retaining our liberties as autonomous individuals who can, and must, create our own values? -- J.M. Buchanan


Alberta, Again

I’m sitting in the Mill Woods Evangelical Missionary Church in Edmonton, AB, during the rehearsal for Trevor and Keri’s wedding tomorrow. They’re getting instructions about standing and walking, and all that stuff.

The drive from Bozeman to Camrose, AB went fine yesterday. Made 630 miles in 11 hours. My route was as follows: I-90W from Bozeman to Montana Hwy 287 to Helena, where Hwy 287 intersects I-15 north. I-15 took me to the border at Sweetgrass/Couts. Picked up Alberta Hwy 4 there, to Warren, where I picked up Hwy, 36. Almost 200 miles from there with almost no towns – farms and ranches, except for a brief stop in Taber (the corn capital of Canada). Hit Hwy 13 in Killam (famous sign there: “we love our children – Killam!”). Then into Camrose. Rainstorms all around me from Taber north, and lots of water on the road surface at points, but I had only a few drops on the windshield.

Once I was able to get CBC Radio (north of Shelby, MT), I got my fill of Canadian news and talk radio. Lots of the discussion focused around issues related to my summer at PERC: water usage, development on flood plains, sour gas well development near cities, etc. One of the discussions I most enjoyed was with a woman who is the “eyes and ears” of the Bow River. I frequently point out that wildlife and natural resources do not have a “voice” of their own in public discussion. This woman tries to provide such a voice for the Bow. Of course, the problem is that the values she says are “the river’s values” (a phrase she used a couple of times) are really her own – rivers don’t have values. But at least her organization acknowledges that natural resources only enter public discussion through what people say.


The Simon-Ehrlich Wager

During the past academic year, one of my professorial assistants (Dave McClintick) did some background research for me on Julian Simon's understanding of Robert Malthus' work. The research was for the paper I'm currently working on her at PERC. In the process, he decided to do some independent research on the famous wager that Simon made with Paul Ehrlich (the neo-Malthusian and author of The Population Bomb and, more recently, One with Nineveh). In 1980, Simon and Ehrlich put their money behind their competing theories regarding natural resource scarcity. They wagered that the inflation-adjusted prices of five base metals would either increase (Ehrlich, of course, based on his Malthusian theory of increasing scarcity) or decrease (Simon, based on his theory about human ingenuity and unlimited resources in the long run). In 1990, Simon won the bet, but quickly reminded his supporters that his claim was simply that he was more likely to win than to lose in any 10-year time frame, and that the longer the time frame, the more likely he was to win.

Dave took up the implicit challenge in Simon's claims, and examined whether Simon would have won the wager over the 20th century, and also what the outcome would have been in each of its decades. He presented his results at the Undergraduate Research Forum hosted by the Michigan State University Honors College, where his poster presentation won a Merit Recognition award in the Social Science category. The results of his work will now be published in the September 2005 issue of PERC Reports, which can be found from the PERC website: I'll repost an announcement of the article in September when it becomes available.

Along with getting Dave's research into shape for publication this past week, I've been attending a few sessions of the PERC student seminar on Free Market Environmentalism and a KCI session on Grantsmanship, getting tenure material and grant applications for the fall into shape, attending a couple PERC parties, and enjoying the arrival of summer in Bozeman. The PERC student seminar brings in about 25 undergraduate students (usually seniors or new graduates) for a week of introduction to lectures and discussion with PERC fellows and others (P.J. Hill and Holly Fretwell ran it, with guest lectures by Terry Anderson, Dan Benjamin, Roger Meiners, Rick Stroup, Don Leal, Wally Thurman, Hank Fischer, and Nick Parker). My conversations with the students over the week were great: they were there because they are interested in the ways in which private property rights and other market-based solutions can be used to promote environmental conservation, and they had lots of questions. Last night at the pig roast that celebrated the end of the seminar, I sat in on a long discussion P.J. had with a small group of the students about ethics, self-interest, markets and the intrinsic value of nature.

The two parties were great times for extended conversations with the students and the KCI fellows, as suggested above. P.J.'s log home is located on the bank of a small river west of Bozeman. Beautiful setting for an evening of steaks, discussion, and even calf-roping (not a real calf!). Most of the students tried their hands at roping, but I avoided the embarassment of missing over and over! That party was on Saturday; Terry's pig roast took place last night (Wednesday) at his cabin in the Bridger's. He has a simple cabin on a lot of about 10 acres overlooking the Gallatin range from the Bridger's (you go up past the "M" to get there). The KCI fellows joined us for that event, and I spent a fair amount of time talking to several of them, including one fellow I hadn't talked to before who is working to conserve the Trevilian Station Civil War battlefield. Coincidentially, Trevilian Station was Custer's First Stand; we are about 3 hours from the Little Big Horn battlefield which celebrates his famous last battle this weekend.

I hope to post a few pictures from Terry's pig roast next week. I'm driving to Alberta tomorrow for a family wedding and a few days with the kids. Then it will be back here to Bozeman to finish my summer project on Malthus. In the meantime, here's a link to the famous Montana State "M" that I mentioned, and hope to hike up to next week!