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An Amateur Among Professionals


  • Robert M. Solow

    () (Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139)


This brief retrospective note describes the author’s occasional contributions to the economics of natural resources. It emphasizes the role and interpretation of the Hotelling condition and discusses the reasons why that result plays so small a role empirically. The concept of sustainability is introduced in the simplest possible content, that of directly consuming a finite stock over infinite time. When the resources flow is an input into production along with capital that can be accumulated, the nature of sustainability changes and becomes more interesting. It is suggested, however, that to consider instead the eventual availability of a resource-free backstop technology may be just as interesting and more relevant. That concept is illustrated in the direct-consumption context but awaits further development in production economies.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert M. Solow, 2009. "An Amateur Among Professionals," Annual Review of Resource Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 1-14, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:anr:reseco:v:1:y:2009:p:1-14

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    More about this item


    resource economics; Hotelling condition; sustainability; backstop technology;

    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • Q30 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - General


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