The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Natural Resources

  • Anthony C. Fisher
Reference work entry


The adequacy of the resource base to support sustained growth of an agricultural, and later an industrial, society might be said to be one of the founding concepts of economics. Malthus’s great treatise (1798) is concerned with population growth outstripping the (agricultural) resource base. Ricardo (1817) introduced a different, and probably more useful notion of scarcity, of higher quality, lower cost resources such as agricultural land, but also extractive resources like minerals. Both were pessimistic about prospects for long-term growth in the face of finite supplies of (good) land and related resources. The Ricardian scarcity concept was later applied by Jevons (1865) in a study of the British economy’s dependence on coal. As Jevons noted, it is not simply, or so much the physical limits that matter, as the increasing costs of mining and processing lower-grade materials. From both classical and neoclassical sources, then, comes the idea that limited supplies and rising production costs of natural resources will exert a drag on growth, perhaps even preclude achievement of a steady state at a tolerable level.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony C. Fisher
    • 1
  1. 1.