Julian Simon Would Have Loved This

When I read this article on waste disposal, via Instapundit, all I could think of was Julian Simon.  For those who may be too young to remember, back in the 80's, after the panic that we were running out of oil was over, but before the current panic that we are producing too much carbon dioxide, there was a panic that we were running out of garbage dump space.  Uh, never mind:

Simply put, operators of garbage dumps are stuffing more waste than
anyone expected into the giant plastic-lined holes, keeping disposal
prices down and making the construction of new landfills largely
unnecessary....

The
productivity leap is the second major economic surprise from the trash
business in the last 20 years. First, it became clear in the early
1990's that there was a glut of disposal space, not the widely believed
shortage that had drawn headlines in the 1980's. Although many town
dumps had closed, they were replaced by fewer, but huge, regional ones.
That sent dumping prices plunging in many areas in the early 1990's and
led to a long slump in the waste industry.

Since then, the
industry and its followers have been relying on time - about 330
million tons of trash went into landfills in the United States last
year alone, according to Solid Waste Digest, a trade publication - to
fill up some of those holes, erase the glut and send disposal prices
skyward again. Instead, dump capacity has kept growing, and rapidly,
even as only a few new dumps were built.

Shortages seldom persist where the human mind is left free to attack the problem, and economic incentives are allowed to operate freely.  I wrote my own post attacking the zero-sum mentality that causes certain people to jump from one shortage-panic to the next. 

My prediction:  Five years from now, we will be seeing the same article on oil and natural gas.  "This oil field in west Texas is over 80 years old, and was thought to be depleted, until $60 oil prices and some new technology...."   You get the idea.

  • No surprise there. After all, we already know about huge reserves of petroleum that aren't being exploited now simply because paying off the Saudis is cheaper. When the price of our current oil supplies rises enough, the previously-uneconomical sources will be able to go online. We don't even need to look for them...the oil companies already know exactly where they are.