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 Energy Resources
 
Economic Optimism? Yes, I’ll Take That Bet
The New York Times, United States Monday, December 27, 2010

John Tierney
Five years ago, Matthew R. Simmons and I bet $5,000 about the future of energy supplies. The day of reckoning is January 1, 2011. Simmons offered to bet $5,000 that the average price of oil in 2010 would be at least $200 a barrel in 2005 dollars. It was Julian Simon who figured out decades back that betting was a better alternative to arguing. The price of oil now is far below the $ 200 threshold set by Simmons. Julian Simon’s advice that you can make news with doomsday predictions, but will lose money betting in favor of them, remains good even now, writes JOHN TIERNEY in The New York Times.

Five years ago, Matthew R. Simmons and I bet $5,000. It was a wager about the future of energy supplies — a Malthusian pessimist versus a Cornucopian optimist — and now the day of reckoning is nigh: Jan. 1, 2011.

The bet was occasioned by a cover article in August 2005 in The New York Times Magazine titled “The Breaking Point.” It featured predictions of soaring oil prices from Mr. Simmons, who was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the head of a Houston investment bank specializing in the energy industry, and the author of “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy.”

I called Mr. Simmons to discuss a bet. To his credit — and unlike some other Malthusians — he was eager to back his predictions with cash. He expected the price of oil, then about $65 a barrel, to more than triple in the next five years, even after adjusting for inflation. He offered to bet $5,000 that the average price of oil over the course of 2010 would be at least $200 a barrel in 2005 dollars.

...

As the leader of the Cornucopians, the optimists who believed there would always be abundant supplies of energy and other resources, Julian figured that betting was the best way to make his argument. Optimism, he found, didn’t make for cover stories and front-page headlines.

...

As an alternative to arguing, Julian offered to bet that the price of any natural resource chosen by a Malthusian wouldn’t rise in the future. Dr. Ehrlich accepted and formed a consortium with two colleagues at Berkeley, John P. Holdren and John Harte, who were supposed to be experts in natural resources. In 1980, they picked five metals and bet that the prices would rise during the next 10 years.

...

Julian, who died in 1998, never managed to persuade Dr. Ehrlich or Dr. Holdren or other prominent doomsayers to take his bets again.

When I found a new bettor in 2005, the first person I told was Julian’s widow, Rita Simon, a public affairs professor at American University. She was so happy to see Julian’s tradition continue that she wanted to share the bet with me, so we each ended up each putting $2,500 against Mr. Simmons’s $5,000.

Just as Mr. Simmons predicted, oil prices did soar well beyond $65. With the global economy booming in the summer of 2008, the price of a barrel of oil reached $145. American foreign-policy experts called for policies to secure access to this increasingly scarce resource; environmentalists advocated crash programs to reduce dependence on fossil fuels; companies producing power from wind and other alternative energies rushed to expand capacity.

When the global recession hit in the fall of 2008, the price plummeted below $50, but at the end of that year Mr. Simmons was quoted in The Baltimore Sun sounding confident. When Jay Hancock, a Sun financial columnist, asked if he was having any second thoughts about the wager, Mr. Simmons replied: “God, no. We bet on the average price in 2010. That’s an eternity from now.”

The past year the price has rebounded, but the average for 2010 has been just under $80, which is the equivalent of about $71 in 2005 dollars — a little higher than the $65 at the time of our bet, but far below the $200 threshold set by Mr. Simmons.

...

It’s true that the real price of oil is slightly higher now than it was in 2005, and it’s always possible that oil prices will spike again in the future.

...

The really good news is the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas. It’s now selling for less than half of what it was five years ago. There’s so much available that the Energy Department is predicting low prices for gas and electricity for the next quarter-century. Lobbyists for wind farms, once again, have been telling Washington that the “sustainable energy” industry can’t sustain itself without further subsidies.

...

Maybe something unexpected will change these happy trends, but for now I’d say that Julian Simon’s advice remains as good as ever. You can always make news with doomsday predictions, but you can usually make money betting against them.

This article was published in the The New York Times on Monday, December 27, 2010. Please read the original article here.
Author : Mr Tierney is with the New York Times.
Tags- Find more articles on - Juliam simon | oil prices | simmons

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