Episode 508: A Bet On The Future Of Humanity : Planet Money A biologist predicts a population bomb that will lead to global catastrophe. An economist sees a limitless future for mankind. The result is one of the most famous bets in economics.
NPR logo Episode 508: A Bet On The Future Of Humanity

Episode 508: A Bet On The Future Of Humanity

James Cridland/Flickr
In this episode, a biologist and an economist make a bet on whether humanity is doomed to run out of resources.
James Cridland/Flickr

Note: This episode originally ran in 2014.

A famous biologist, Paul Ehrlich, predicts that overpopulation will lead to global catastrophe. He writes a bestselling book — The Population Bomb — and goes on the Tonight Show to make his case.

An economist, Julian Simon, disagrees. He thinks Ehrlich isn't accounting for how clever people can be, and how shortages can lead to new, more efficient ways of doing things.

So Simon challenges Ehrlich to a very public, very acrimonious, decade-long bet. On today's show: The story of that bet, and what it tells us about the future of humanity.

For more, see The Bet, by Yale historian Paul Sabin. We talk to Sabin on today's show.

Music: "Smoke and Mirrors," "Get It Get It" and "Too Much Bling."

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