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Mineral economics: Overview of a discipline


  • Gordon, Richard L.
  • Tilton, John E.


Mineral economics is the academic discipline that investigates and promotes understanding of economic and policy issues associated with the production and use of mineral commodities. While its origins can be traced back at least 200 years to the writings of David Ricardo and other early Classical economists, it emerged as a separate academic field only after World War II and then primarily in the United States. As a separate academic discipline, its roots are found in mining schools that needed to consider the milieu in which minerals are sold. While geologists, mining engineers, and others with technical backgrounds were largely responsible for creating the first stand-alone mineral-economics programs, ultimately trained economists became participants as well. Moreover, even after the rise of mineral-economics departments, most of the research in the field continued and continues to be carried out in other academic units, including traditional economic departments and engineering schools, as well as in government agencies, nonprofit research organizations, consulting firms, and international organizations. In the decades following World War II, after early fears of a new depression and excess capacity evaporated, mineral economics focused on the long-run availability of nonrenewable commodities and the threat of supply interruptions for strategic and critical minerals from the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and southern Africa, concerns that persisted at least through the 1980s. The relationship between mineral companies and governments (with particular attention on taxes and other ways of sharing the benefits from mining) was another important issue, as were more traditional interests, including market analysis (mainly, price and demand forecasts), project evaluation, and monopoly and antitrust issues. Since then, the discipline has spread from its early North American base around the globe. The range of topics addressed has grown as well and now includes the environmental impact of mineral production and use, the resource curse, the rise of China and India as major consumers, the concerns of indigenous people and local communities, and a host of other economic and policy issues associated with mineral commodities. This article examines the nature of mineral economics, its emergence as a distinct academic discipline following World War II, and its more recent evolution. It concludes with a few observations about the future.

Suggested Citation

  • Gordon, Richard L. & Tilton, John E., 2008. "Mineral economics: Overview of a discipline," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 4-11, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jrpoli:v:33:y:2008:i:1:p:4-11

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert Bradley, 2007. "Resourceship: An Austrian theory of mineral resources," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer;Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, vol. 20(1), pages 63-90, March.
    2. Richard L. Gordon, 1967. "A Reinterpretation of the Pure Theory of Exhaustion," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 274-274.
    3. Jeffrey A. Krautkraemer, 1998. "Nonrenewable Resource Scarcity," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(4), pages 2065-2107, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Russell, Bonita I. & Shapiro, Daniel & Vining, Aidan R., 2010. "The evolution of the Canadian mining industry: The role of regulatory punctuation," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 90-97, June.
    2. Prno, Jason & Scott Slocombe, D., 2012. "Exploring the origins of ‘social license to operate’ in the mining sector: Perspectives from governance and sustainability theories," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 346-357.

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