How Malthus Got It Wrong (David R. Henderson, 1/11/24, Defining Ideas)

Simon, in his book The Ultimate Resource, posited that it was precisely the growth in population that had led to the increased supply of resources. How so? Because, argued Simon, with more people, there were more minds, and with more minds, there were more minds solving problems. That’s what led to his book’s title. People, he argued, were the ultimate scarce resource.

In “Natural Resources,” published in David R. Henderson, ed., The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Princeton University economists Sue Anne Batey Blackman and William J. Baumol lay out three ways in which “the effective stocks of a natural resource can be increased.” First, a technological innovation can reduce the amount of waste. They give the example of reducing the amount of iron ore lost in mining or smelting. They also note that improvements in technology can help force more oil out of wells that have been abandoned. Second, they write, there is some substitutability over a wide range of resources. They give the example of insulation, which allowed homeowners and tenants to use less oil. This doesn’t mean that oil became more plentiful, of course. But it does mean that the available supply of oil was stretched so that the awful thing people feared—running out of oil—didn’t happen. The final way they note of increasing resources is to recycle. While some products really should not be recycled because the resource costs of doing so exceed the savings, other resources, like aluminum, can be profitably recycled.

In their article, Blackman and Baumol give some striking data on five minerals: tin, copper, iron ore, lead, and zinc. They show world reserves in 1950, world production between 1950 and 2000, and reserves in 2000. If we were running out of those resources, all of the reserves should have been smaller in 2000 than in 1950. In fact, all were larger. The case of iron ore is the most striking. In 1950, there were 19 billion metric tons. Between 1950 and 2000, 37.6 billion metric tons of iron ore were produced, which was more than the number of tons to begin with. By 2000, world reserves were 140 billion metric tons, over seven times as many as in 1950!

Earlier similar data caused Julian Simon to conclude that the real constraint on resource availability was not resources but people.


Clean Energy Subsidies vs. A Carbon Tax (Jeffrey Miron, 1/22/24, Cato)

The existing scientific consensus implies that carbon and other GHC emissions (henceforth, “emissions”) constitute an externality, meaning an effect of one person’s actions on other economic actors, in ways not mediated through prices. Air pollution from cars and factories, fertilizer runoff from farms, and loud noises from highways and airports are standard examples.

In the presence of externalities, free markets produce too much of the externality‐​generating good, and government can in principle improve economic efficiency.

The standard approach is a tax that raises the good’s price, which lowers its production and thus the externality. Measured economic output goes down, but true economic output—measured output minus the externality—goes up.


Are 3D-Printed Homes the Future of Housing? (Kristi Waterworth, Jan. 19, 2024, US NEWS)

Because companies like Alquist 3D are working on ways to build 3D-printed homes with materials that are on hand locally, these homes can also have very small carbon footprints. One of Alquist 3D’s ultimate goals is to design homes that are not only carbon neutral but carbon negative – they literally remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The other way that 3D-printed homes will ultimately become more affordable for homeowners is by simply being more energy efficient. Concrete homes have traditionally had high insulation values, but by customizing the wall formulas, local construction experts can make walls that respond better to local needs.

“Moving to using 3D printing to create homes can significantly help reduce energy usage because designs can be optimized to balance different features,” says Soydan Ozcan, sustainable manufacturing and materials scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. “For instance, we can create homes with walls that are structurally sound but that minimize heat loss.”

In the future, Ozcan says, a collaborative team from the Oak Ridge laboratory and the University of Maine will be introducing smart-wall features that can improve energy efficiency in response to a change in the environment.


The Culmination of Modi’s Hindu Nationalism (The Editors, Jan 22, 2024, World Politics Review)

The opening of the temple, and Modi’s instrumentalization of it, marks the unofficial start of Modi’s campaign for a third term in office, with general elections expected to be called in the spring. It is also the latest illustration of the mutually beneficial ties between Modi and India’s Hindu nationalist movement, which he and his party have utilized to gain political power and amplified via his government’s policies and rhetoric.

The illiberalism associated with Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism is at this point well-documented—at least abroad. Within India, press freedoms are shrinking, with a growing number of journalists, particularly those who cover religion and communal violence, facing punitive action, including criminal cases as well as threats of violence and harassment.

Still, despite how well India’s democratic backsliding over the past 10 years has been documented, Modi has yet to pay any real price for it in global affairs. India’s Western partners continue to court him, prioritizing competition with China over calling out the erosion of India’s liberal democracy. Even India’s ties with Muslim-majority nations, particularly the Gulf states but also in Southeast Asia, have not suffered under Modi, despite the increasing discrimination and violence faced by India’s Muslim population.