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Therefore the way the owners of the subsoil got some rent could not be totally disconnected from the differential principle, as Marshall admitted some years later.


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The marginalist tools were called to enter the analysis. Sorley 40 played a crucial role in that synthesis. Unlike what Ricardo pointed out for the rent of land, all mines provide a sort of absolute rent, which is constituent of prices. If the rent is part of the ore prices, its regulation might have an effect on fossil fuel prices, which is an important issue for economic development. As a result, public regulation could not have any decisive effect on fossil fuels prices; it could only produce money transfers between economic agents:. The reduction of royalty [ i. On the one hand, it is a theoretical novelty to incorporate fossil fuels into economic theory.

But on the other hand, this innovation is imbued with two priorities, which come rather from outside natural resources analysis: a theoretical priority the development of marginalism , and a political priority taxation. This reveals a persistent concern with coal depletion form the s to the s. The developments however took place in a context the rise of marginalism and fiscal debates that restrained, or at least shaped, the course of innovation. In that sense, 19 th century British economic discourses on fossil fuels were, for a part, original and, for another part, embedded in the general history of the time.

Yet in the first decades of the 20 th century, some scholars chose to combine resources analysis with marginalism in a different way, and the specificities highlighted by Marshall, Paley, Sorley and Einaudi finally disappeared from the heart of economic theory. The idea of compensation was at the core of the new mining rent theory. But Frank W. Taussig ; , 47 from Harvard University, decided to reject it, advocating that many commodities are limited, without any compensation for their owners. Ore resources are only one case among others. The payments to the owners of the subsoil have no reason to be specific:.

It is argued by some able economists that a royalty [ i. But I am skeptical of the validity of this reasoning.

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The fact that a store is physically limited does not enable its owner to secure a price. Even if ore resources are exhaustible, they are not scarce at a large scale compared with the needs of the economy. The owners should not be compensated. If they do not want to exploit the subsoil, other deposits are available at the same costs of production elsewhere, and there must be an owner ready to enter the market without any absolute rent.

In the s, the forecasted reserves of coal and petroleum, in particular in the US, were considered larger than in the previous decades. This historical explanation needs to be completed by a theoretical explanation. In a sense, by erasing the specificities of mines with respect to rent and income distribution, Taussig was fully committed to one of the marginalist projects: to incorporate all the payments into a single theoretical framework structured by the differential principle.

It is a paradox, because this orientation transformed the mining rent into a Ricardian differential rent — a return to the situation of the s, with no theoretical novelty after Jevons.

His rehabilitation of the narrow Ricardian scheme was confirmed by his followers, and has remained at the foundation of recent contributions. First, some authors were tempted by innovation, to build new tools and new concepts in order to understand the economic consequences of depletion.

Second, these innovations took place in a paradigmatic shift towards marginalism. This had an impact on the way the new tools and concepts were set up. Third, historical realities and theoretical backgrounds finally combined to produce a theory of mining rent that paradoxically erased the specificities of exhaustible resources. Marginalism overwhelmingly invaded natural resources analysis, so fossil fuels entered the same theoretical framework as other factors of production, and economic discourses became less concerned with ore depletion as an issue for economic development.

Other cases and other periods should be scrutinised to provide a comprehensive answer to this question, but it seems that, on environmental and energy issues, probably as on other topics, economists are not only influenced by the historical context when they deal with a subject, they also have a theoretical bias that leads them to complete certain conceptual projects, at the risk of losing sight of the intrinsic characteristics of the objects they study. Leach et al. Cropper, Maureen L. Devarajan, Shantayanan, Fisher Anthony C. Flux, Alfred W.

Jevons, T he Coal Question.

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New York, Augustus M. Kelley, [] , pp. Gray, Lewis C. London, Edward Stanford, Jevons, Herbert S. Jevons, W. London, MacMillan, Kurz, Heinz D. Marshall, Alfred, Industry and Trade , 4 th ed.

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Muspratt, Edmund K. Orchard, John E. Peart, Sandra J. Jevons London, Routledge, Robinson, Tim J. Sorley, William R. Whitaker, John K. W hite, Michael V. Ruddiman, See Maureen L. Jevons is considered as a major contributor to economics for his consumption theory, elaborated a few years later in Theory of Political Economy W. That the fund of coal treasured up in the superficies of the globe, for the accommodation of society, is very great, I readily acknowledge; but that it is inexhaustible, in the proper sense of the word, I deny.

Ruddiman, , pp. Stanley Jevons, The Coal Question. London, MacMillan, , pp. Jevons, The Coal Question , op. Williams, Natural History of the Mineral Kingdom, op.

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See A. Peart, The Economics of W. London, MacMillan, , p. Robinson, Economic Theories of Exhaustible Resources , op. Percy, Mine Rents and Mineral Royalties , op. Einaudi, La Rendita Mineraria , op. Einaudi explains ibid.


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Taussig, Principles of Economics , op. Jevons,, The Coal Question. Kelley, [], pp. Kurz eds. Main journal in British area studies published in France. It covers all social sciences, including history and the Empire.

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