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Introducing the Simon Abundance Index

Blog Post | Economic Growth

Introducing the Simon Abundance Index

New study from Human Progress finds that every additional human being born appears to make resources proportionally more plentiful.

Colorful umbrella. Simon Abundance Index

Marian Tupy, editor of Human Progress, and Professor Gale Pooley from Brigham Young University – Hawaii have used 37 years’ worth of data for 50 foundational commodities covering energy, food, materials, and metals to develop a new framework to measure resource availability. The authors contend that instead of making resources scarcer, population growth has gone hand in hand with greater resource abundance.

The report builds on the famous wager between biologist Paul Ehrlich and economist and Julian Simon on the effect of population growth on the Earth’s resources. While Ehrlich warned that population growth could deplete resources and lead to global catastrophe, Simon saw humans as the “ultimate resource” who could innovate their way out of such shortages. The Ehrlich-Simon wager tracked the real price of a basket of five raw materials between 1980 and 1990, finding as Simon hypothesized, that all measured commodities decreased in price by an average of 57.6 percent, despite a population increase of 873 million.

Tupy and Pooley expand on Simon’s original insight by increasing the basket to 50 commodities and analyzing a longer time period; between 1980 and 2017. Over this time, they find the real price of their basket of commodities decreased by 36.3 percent.

They also introduce a new measure termed “time-price,” the time that an average human must work in order to earn enough money to buy a particular commodity. They find the time-price of their basket of 50 commodities has fallen by 64.7 percent. Put differently, commodities that took 60 minutes of work to buy in 1980 took only 21 minutes of work to purchase in 2017. Should the current trend continue, commodities could become 50 percent cheaper every 26 years.

In addition, the authors develop the concept of price elasticity of population (PEP), which allows them to estimate the effect of population growth on the availability of resources. Over the time period studied the population grew from 4.46 billion to 7.55 billion, a 69.3 percent increase. The PEP indicates that the time-price of the basket of commodities declined by 0.934 percent for every 1 percent of increase in population. Every additional human being born on our planet appears to make resources proportionally more plentiful for the rest of us.

Using the PEP values the authors form the Simon Abundance Framework, which describes progression from decreasing abundance at the one end to increasing abundance at the other end. The authors conclude that humanity is experiencing superabundance with the time-price commodities decreasing at a faster proportional rate than the population is increasing.

Finally, the authors produce the Simon Abundance Index (SAI) that represents the ratio of the change in population over the change in the time-price. Between 1980 and 2017, resource availability increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 4.32 percent, meaning Earth was 379.6 percent more abundant in 2017 than it was in 1980. 

Tupy and Pooley forecast that the time-price of commodities could fall a further 29 percent over the next 37 years as humanity continues to make resources more plentiful through greater efficiency of use, increased supply, and the development of cheaper substitutes. They caution, however, that for this trend to continue market incentives and the price mechanism must endure.

“The world is a closed system in the way that a piano is a closed system. The instrument has only 88 notes, but those notes can be played in a nearly infinite variety of ways. The same applies to our planet,” write Tupy and Pooley. “The Earth’s atoms may be fixed, but the possible combinations of those atoms are infinite. What matters, then, is not the physical limits of our planet, but human freedom to experiment and reimagine the use of resources that we have.”

Read the new Policy AnalysisThe Simon Abundance Index: A New Way to Measure Availability of Resources

Blog Post | Cost of Technology

MacBooks Galore! Laptop Abundance since 1991

Since 1991, laptop abundance has increased by a factor of six up to a factor of infinity.

In 1991, Apple introduced the PowerBook 100 priced at $2,500. Blue-collar hourly compensation at the time was $14.93, so the time price was around 168 hours. Today you can pick up a 13.3-inch MacBook Air for $999. With blue-collar hourly compensation around $36.50 today, the time price is just over 27 hours. You can get six MacBook Airs today for the time price of one PowerBook 100 in 1991.

The PowerBook 100 weighed 5.1 pounds and featured a 640×480 monochrome LED screen, 2 megabytes of memory, and 20 megabytes of storage. The battery was good for three hours. The MacBook Air has 13.3 times more pixels (in millions of colors), 4,000 times more memory, and 12,800 times more storage than the PowerBook 100. It weighs 45 percent less, and the battery lasts six times longer. The MacBook Air has Wi-Fi, a 720-pixel camera, and stereo speakers and comes with 32 apps ranging from music programs to spreadsheets.

While it’s hard to make a direct comparison, a simple way to do an analysis is to ask MacBook Air users how many PowerBook 100s they would need to give up their one Air. Most users now think the PowerBook 100 has negative value due to the disposal costs. That would make the MacBook Air infinitely more valuable.

This article was published at Gale Winds on 11/7/2023.

Blog Post | Cost of Technology

Atari to Xbox

Get two Xbox Series X consoles for the time price of one Atari 2600.

The Atari 2600 was introduced in 1977 and was priced at $199. Unskilled wages at the time were $3.15 an hour, so the time price was around 63 hours. Today you can pick up an Xbox Series X for $499. With unskilled wages today being around $16.50 an hour, the time price is just over 30 hours. You can buy two Xbox Series X consoles today for the time price of one Atari 2600 in 1977.

Atari 2600 home video console system next to an Xbox series X

The Atari had a chip running at 1.19 megahertz (or 1,190,000 cycles per second) and had 128 bytes of random access memory. The maximum resolution was 160×192 with 128 colors.

Combat (video game) for the Atari system, and Gears 5 (video game) for the Xbox series x

The Xbox Series X graphics chip runs at 12 teraflops, or 12 trillion floating-point operations per second. It has 16 gigabits of memory and 1 terabyte of storage and can display billions of colors on an 8K display.

The Series X can display 1,080 times more pixels in millions of more colors 10 million times faster with 125 million times more memory. In the past 46 years, computer creativity has grown exponentially abundant—just as Gordon Moore and George Gilder predicted.

A version of this article was published at Gale Winds on 10/24/2023.

The Human Progress Podcast | Ep. 37

Stephen Barrows: The Economic Madness of Malthusianism

The economist Stephen Barrows joins Chelsea Follett to discuss the intellectual history of population economics, the benefits of population growth, and what we can expect from a future of falling fertility.

Blog Post | Cost of Technology

Portraits Were Just Expensive Selfies

This was originally published on Pessimists Archive.

In the process of exploring reactions to the advent and development of photography, we came across a fascinating article about ‘sun pictures, ’an early name for photography. One notable observation—something we don’t think about today—was that photography extended portraits to everyone. What was once only for kings, queens and titans of industry became available to everyone. This got us thinking, weren’t portraits just expensive selfies? And aren’t selfies just the portraits of modern times?

The full article can be read here and is well worth your time.