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A cornucopian is a futurist who believes that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by similarly continued advances in technology. Fundamentally they believe that there is enough matter and energy on the Earth to provide for the estimated peak population of about 9.5 billion in 2050. However, this would imply there is already enough for the current world population, but as starvation and fuel poverty have not yet been eradicated, the argument therefore is that the problem is not a lack of resources but rather inadequate distribution through the current economic and political systems. Looking further into the future they posit that the abundance of matter and energy in space would appear to give humanity almost unlimited room for growth.

The term comes from the cornucopia, the "horn of plenty" of Greek mythology, which magically supplied its owners with endless food and drink. The cornucopians are sometimes known as "Boomsters", and their philosophic opponents—Malthus and his school—are called "Doomsters" or "Doomers."

Contents

Theory

Cornucopian theory, as formulated by Julian L. Simon in the 1981 The Ultimate Resource, acknowledges that greater consumption is due to an increase in population, which heightens scarcity and induces price increases, at least in the short run. Higher prices create an opportunity, however, which leads inventors and businesses to seek new ways to satisfy the shortages. A few inventors and businesses eventually succeed, and finally society ends up better off than if the original shortage problems had never arisen. As population grows, the stock of useful knowledge grows as well. Cornucopians assert that the basic forces influencing the state of humanity and its progress are not due to inherent limitations caused by the finite amount of natural resources, but by (a) the number of people who are alive to consume and produce goods and knowledge and (b) the level of wealth. Under this economic philosophy, wealth is more than the amount of tangible assets. The extent of wealth depends upon the level of technology and the ability to create new knowledge. As a society becomes more wealthy, it creates a well-developed set of legal rules to produce the conditions of freedom and security that progress requires.

Description by an opposing view

Stereotypically, a cornucopian is someone who posits that there are few intractable natural limits to growth and believes the world can provide a practically limitless abundance of natural resources. The label 'cornucopian' is rarely self-applied, and is most commonly used derogatorily by those who believe that the target is overly optimistic about the resources that will be available in the future.

One common example of this labeling is by those who are skeptical of the view that technology can solve, or overcome, the problem of an exponentially-increasing human population[1] living off a finite base of natural resources. So-called cornucopians might counter that human population growth has slowed dramatically, and not only is currently growing at a linear rate[2], but is projected to peak and start declining later this century.[3]

In practice, the cornucopian view relies upon the economic law of supply and demand, which has the following implication: as long as the price of a good is free to adjust, all consumers who wish to purchase the good at the going price are able to do so. Resources do not run out, they simply become more expensive. Although another viewpoint is the post scarcity model which moves beyond conventional economics - and indeed cannot be adequately described by usual economic models which are based on the notion of scarcity.

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Peak oil

In the "peak oil" debate, the views of those labeled as cornucopian are very diverse, ranging from the simplistic "we will never run out of oil" to pessimistic views such as "we might transition to alternatives fast enough to barely avoid the collapse of civilization". The spectrum is broad enough that some who are characterized as cornucopians by doomers might be characterized as peakniks or even doomers by other cornucopians. A typical cornucopian view might be characterized as "there exist viable solutions to the problem of peak oil" or "there is oil for at least 800 years".

Key names

See also

Further reading

References

  1. ^ Human Population Growth over Time, University of Michigan
  2. ^ International Data Base (IDB) - Total Midyear Population for the World: 1950-2050
  3. ^ reportcover.doc

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