IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The apparent consumption of fossil energy as an indicator of modernisation in Latin America by 1925: a proposal using foreign trade statistics


  • Mar Rubio

    (University Pompeu Fabra)

  • Mauricio Folchi

    (University of Chile)


"In the interpretation of the process of economic modernisation of the last two centuries, it is widely accepted that the productivity gains achieved through the development of new energy carriers (from wood to coal, and later to petroleum and electricity) play an important role. From this viewpoint, the Industrial Revolution has been interpreted as the “process that allowed the exploitation at great scale of new energy sources by means of inanimate converters” (Cipolla, 1994) and it has been argued that coal – and later oil – was “a strategic item in the rise and diffusion of the industrial civilisation” (Wrigley, 1962). It is within this context that it has also been claimed that “economic history makes it evident that the industrial standing of any country may be gauged, with a fair degree of accuracy, from its development of mechanical power” (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1931). Of the 32 countries that constitute Latin America and the Caribbean at present, we have historical national accounts for a handful of them. In the absence of comparable macroeconomic indicators for most of the Latin American economies beyond the 1930s, this paper presents an estimate of the apparent consumption per head of coal and petroleum for 25 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean for the year 1925. This allows us to rank the Latin American countries and observe the relative distance to each other. We use energy consumption as an indicator of economic modernisation. By 1925 most Latin American countries were importers of coal and petroleum products, mostly from the UK, the US and Germany; Mexico, Venezuela, Peru and Colombia also provided oil within the region. We use both the foreign trade statistics from the Latin American economies and that of their principal trade partners, plus data on home production of coal and petroleum for constructing our estimates. Ours is not the first attempt to construct the apparent consumption of energy in Latin America in historical terms. Three other studies present historical series of energy consumption in Latin America. These are the one by Raul Prebisch (CEPAL, 1951), a second attempt by CEPAL (1956) and finally Darmstadter et al (1971). Yet our endeavour goes far beyond the number of countries included in those studies for the early part of the twentieth century: Prebish gives data for 4 countries, CEPAL only includes data for 7 countries before 1930 and Darmstadter offers window estimates for 1925 and 1929 for 11 countries. In addition in our paper, the year 1925 is used as a test year in order to analyse the weakness and advantages of the alternative sources; we contrast their reliability, in order to build up a robust methodology to be applied (backward and forward in time) in future research for the estimation the apparent consumption of fossil fuels from 1870 to 1945. As a result, the paper contributes to several literatures. On the one hand, it offers a contrast of the foreign trade statistics of the Latin American countries with those of the advanced economies (UK, USA and Germany), showing that the former are far more reliable than previously thought by the literature. On the other hand, it contributes to environmental and energy history studies by doubling the number of countries for which energy consumption estimates was previously available in Latin America. Finally, it contributes to the wider economic history debate in Latin America providing the basis for a comparative analysis of modernisation performance beyond the few countries for which historical national accounts are available."

Suggested Citation

  • Mar Rubio & Mauricio Folchi, 2005. "The apparent consumption of fossil energy as an indicator of modernisation in Latin America by 1925: a proposal using foreign trade statistics," Working Papers 5056, Economic History Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehs:wpaper:5056

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael T. Toman & Barbora Jemelkova, 2003. "Energy and Economic Development: An Assessment of the State of Knowledge," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 4), pages 93-112.
    2. Solow, Robert M, 1974. "The Economics of Resources or the Resources of Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(2), pages 1-14, May.
    3. Carreras, Albert & Hofman, André A. & Tafunell, Xavier & Yáñez, César, 2003. "El desarrollo económico de América Latina en épocas de globalización. Una agenda de investigación," Estudios Estadísticos 24, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL).
    4. E. A. Wrigley, 1962. "The Supply of Raw Materials in the Industrial Revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 15(1), pages 1-16, August.
    5. M. del Mar Rubio Varas & Mauricio Folchi, 2005. "Energy as an indicator of modernisation in Latin America by 1925," Economics Working Papers 868, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    6. Hobson, John Atkinson, 1914. "Work and Wealth: A Human Evaluation," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number hobson1914.
    7. R. M. Solow, 1974. "Intergenerational Equity and Exhaustible Resources," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(5), pages 29-45.
    8. Stern, David I., 2000. "A multivariate cointegration analysis of the role of energy in the US macroeconomy," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 267-283, April.
    9. Basim Makhoul & Samuel Otterstrom, 1998. "Exploring the accuracy of international trade statistics," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(12), pages 1603-1616.
    10. M. del Mar Rubio Varas & Mauricio Folchi, 2005. "On the accuracy of Latin American trade statistics: A nonparametric test for 1925," Economics Working Papers 879, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ehs:wpaper:5056. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Chair Public Engagement Committe (currently David Higgins - Newcastle)). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.