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A Contribution to the Theory of Depletable Resource Scarcity and Its Measures


  • Cairns, Robert D


Economists commonly use rent and unit costs as measures of nonrenewable resource scarcity and identify the types of scarcity as Malthusian or Ricardian. Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, however, concerned themselves mainly with renewable agricultural land; John Stuart Mill and Jevons William Stanley provided major insights into nonrenewable resource scarcity. A simple model of mining brings out the contributions of major classical and other writers, and shows that unit costs and rent are not necessarily useful indicators of scarcity. Exhaustibility of the deposit and choice of capital stock appear more pertinent to firms' intertemporal decisions than exhaustibility of world reserves. Copyright 1990 by Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Cairns, Robert D, 1990. "A Contribution to the Theory of Depletable Resource Scarcity and Its Measures," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 28(4), pages 744-755, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:ecinqu:v:28:y:1990:i:4:p:744-55

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    Cited by:

    1. Norgaard, Richard B., 1992. "Sustainability and the economics of assuring assets for future generations," Policy Research Working Paper Series 832, The World Bank.
    2. M. Northrup Buechner, 2014. "A comment on scarcity," The Journal of Philosophical Economics, Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, The Journal of Philosophical Economics, vol. 8(1), November.

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