“Provides surprising insights for anyone involved in addressing the world’s ‘wicked problems.’… I recommend The Bet to anyone wanting to understand the history of the divisive discussions we have today, especially the stalemate over climate change.”
Bill Gates, The Gates Notes
Today’s raging partisan battles over climate policy and the Keystone XL pipeline are just the latest examples of a deeper debate about our future: Are we headed for a world of scarce resources and environmental catastrophe, or will market forces and technological innovation yield greater prosperity? In a gripping new history, Yale University professor Paul Sabin draws on an iconic story to examine the clash between environmentalists and their conservative critics—from the late 1960s to the present—and trace the origins of the political gulf that separates the two sides.
In 1980, the iconoclastic economist Julian Simon challenged celebrity biologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet. Their wager on the future prices of five metals captured the public’s imagination as a test of coming prosperity or doom. Ehrlich, author of the landmark book The Population Bomb, predicted that rising populations would cause overconsumption, resource scarcity, and famine—with apocalyptic consequences for humanity. Simon optimistically countered that human welfare would flourish thanks to flexible markets, technological change, and our collective ingenuity. The Bet weaves the two men’s lives and ideas together with the era’s partisan political clashes over the environment and the role of government.
In a lively narrative leading from the dawning environmentalism of the 1960s through the pivotal presidential contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and on into the 1990s, Paul Sabin shows how the fight between Ehrlich and Simon—between environmental fears and free-market confidence—helped create today’s gaping and rancorous political divide. Drawing insights from both sides, Sabin argues for using social values, rather than economic or biological absolutes, to guide society’s crucial choices relating to climate change, the planet’s health, and our own.
“Crude Politics establishes the crucial importance of state-level political forces in directing the development of California oil. It stands as an exemplary work of business, legal, and environmental history.”
Tyler Priest, Enterprise and Society
How did Americans grow so dependent on petroleum, and what can we learn from our history that will help us craft successful policies for the future? In this timely and absorbing book, Paul Sabin challenges us to see politics and law as crucial forces behind the dramatic growth of the U.S. oil market during the twentieth century. Using pre-World War II California as a case study of oil production and consumption, Sabin demonstrates how struggles in the legislature and courts over property rights, regulatory law, and public investment determined the shape of the state’s petroleum landscape.
Crude Politics shatters the enduring myth of “free markets” by demonstrating how political decisions affected the institutions that underlie California’s oil economy and how today’s oil market and price structure depend significantly on the ways in which policy questions were answered before World War II. Sabin’s concise and probing analysis casts fresh light on the historical relationship between business and government and on the origins of contemporary problems such as climate change and urban sprawl. Incisive, engaging, and meticulously researched, Crude Politicsilluminates an important chapter in U.S. environmental, legal, business, and political history and the history of the American West.