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More People, More Prosperity: The Simon Abundance Index

The Simon Abundance Index 2024 finds Earth’s resources 509% more plentiful than in 1980.

· 5 min read
Two boys looking out at the skyline of Greenwich, London, from above.
Photo by Fas Khan on Unsplash


The 2024 Simon Abundance Index was released today to coincide with the annual celebration of Earth Day. This was no coincidence: the Index aims to modify Earth Day’s empirical and metaphysical bearings. When it was first observed in 1970, Earth Day justifiably bemoaned the harm caused to the planet over the preceding two centuries by massive, though mostly beneficial, economic expansion, and called upon our species to be better stewards of the planet. Over the succeeding 54 years, the growing influence and legislative triumphs of the environmental movement have led it to radicalize and become more anti-human and apocalyptic. Thus, in 2024, we can encounter books equating the growth of humanity with that of a cancer cell and articles warning that our aqueous planet is about to run out of water. Counterintuitively, the opposite is true: humans create more than they consume, and the planet is not about to run out of anything.

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The Simon Abundance Index is named after the University of Maryland economist Julian Simon (1932–1998), who first observed that, as the world’s population grew, resources fell, rather than increased, in price, which is the best indicator of abundance or scarcity. In a celebrated wager, Simon and the Stanford University biologist and “overpopulation” catastrophist Paul Ehrlich each bet $1,000 on the future price of five commodities: chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten. If the price of the five-metal basket rose between 1980 and 1990, Simon would pay Ehrlich. If it fell, Ehrlich would pay Simon. Over that decade, the world’s population increased by 850 million, but the metal basket fell by 36 percent, netting Simon a check for $576. Today, most economists reject the “running out of resources” hypothesis, and the “problem of overpopulation” that so vexed Ehrlich is likely to be replaced by a population collapse.

Humans being what we are, and the journalistic profession not being what it ought to be, the threats of resource scarcity and overpopulation remain widely believed. We have evolved to be zero-sum thinkers, for in the days of yore, if one member of the band ate more of a slaughtered antelope that really did mean less meat for everyone else. Today, we still think that the more people we have on the planet, the less meat, grain, or fuel there will be to go around. Our stone-age thinking remains oblivious to the advances in trade and technology that allow us to produce more stuff and exchange our surpluses across vast distances. In the meantime, the media, which is more interested in apocalyptic clickbaiting than in reporting on the real state of the world, exaggerates the possibilities of catastrophic future scenarios. If it bleeds, it leads.

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That’s where the Simon Abundance Index enters the picture. For seven years in a row, Dr Gale L. Pooley from Utah Tech University and I have estimated the abundance of the 50 most traded resources using time prices. Time price denotes the length of time you must work to be able to afford to buy something. While money prices are denoted in dollars and cents, time prices are measured in hours. Simply put, if a pound of beef cost you two hours of work in 1980, but costs you only one hour of work today, you are twice as well off. The index started in 1980 with a base value of 100. In 2023, the SAI stood at 609.4, indicating that resources have become 509.4 percent more abundant over the past 43 years. All 50 commodities were more abundant in 2023 than in 1980.

The Simon Abundance Index, 1980–2023 (1980 = 100)

Between 1980 and 2023, the average time price of the 50 basic commodities fell by 70.4 percent. For the time required to earn the money to buy one unit of this commodity basket in 1980, you would get 3.38 units in 2023. In other words, your resource abundance increased by 238 percent. Moreover, during this 43-year period, the world’s population grew by 3.6 billion, from 4.4 billion to over 8 billion: an 80.2 percent increase. Given that personal resource abundance grew by 238 percent ((3.38 - 1) x 100) and the population grew by 80.2 percent, we can say that the population-level resource abundance rose by 509.4 percent ((3.38 x 1.802) x 100 - 100). Population-level resource abundance grew at a compound annual rate of 4.3 percent and every 1-percentage-point increase in population corresponded to a 6.35-percentage-point increase in population-level resource abundance (509.4 ÷ 80.2 = 6.35).

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Individual Commodities, Percentage Change in Time Price and Percentage Change in Abundance, 1980–2023

Since 1980, resource abundance has been increasing at a much faster rate than population. We call that relationship superabundance and explore it at length in our 2022 book Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet. Superabundance shows that humans are not only consumers, but also creators. Far from being a cancer on the planet, each of us, on average, grows the stock of human knowledge, thus benefiting the entire species. The human brain, in other words, is the ultimate resource, just as Simon claimed. 

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