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Natural Capital as an Economic Concept, History and Contemporary Issues


  • Antoine Missemer

    () (CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CIRED - Centre International de Recherche sur l'Environnement et le Développement - CIRAD - Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - AgroParisTech - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)


Natural capital is usually presented as a recent concept, used for the first time in the 1970s, adopted in an important contribution by David Pearce in 1988, and widely used by ecological economists in the early 1990s. First employed to incorporate natural constraints into the economic lexicon, and to oblige economists to take the environment into account, the concept has also been used to include the environment in narrow economic valuations. To take a global view of these controversial uses, this paper reconsiders the genesis of natural capital as an economic concept, not in its present-day form, but from its almost unknown, ancient origins in the 1900s–1910s, in the writing of Alvin S. Johnson. The article first sheds light on this historical and theoretical moment, and then shows how it can help interpret current controversies about natural capital.

Suggested Citation

  • Antoine Missemer, 2018. "Natural Capital as an Economic Concept, History and Contemporary Issues," Post-Print halshs-01564606, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:journl:halshs-01564606
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2017.07.011
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Berkes, Fikret & Folke, Carl, 1992. "A systems perspective on the interrelations between natural, human-made and cultural capital," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 1-8, March.
    2. Roswell C. McCrea, 1909. "Some Recent Text-Books in Economics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(2), pages 324-344.
    3. Tobin, James, 1985. "Neoclassical Theory in America: J. B. Clark and Fisher," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(6), pages 28-38, December.
    4. Eric Neumayer, 2013. "Weak versus Strong Sustainability," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 14993, June.
    5. Ferdinando Meacci, 1989. "Irving Fisher and the Classics on the Notion of Capital: Upheaval and Continuity in Economic Thought," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 21(3), pages 409-424, Fall.
    6. Cohen, Avi J., 2008. "The Mythology Of Capital Or Of Static Equilibrium? The Böhm-Bawerk/Clark Controversy," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 30(02), pages 151-171, June.
    7. Pearce, David W. & Atkinson, Giles D., 1993. "Capital theory and the measurement of sustainable development: an indicator of "weak" sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 103-108, October.
    8. Ekins, Paul & Simon, Sandrine & Deutsch, Lisa & Folke, Carl & De Groot, Rudolf, 2003. "A framework for the practical application of the concepts of critical natural capital and strong sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(2-3), pages 165-185, March.
    9. Antoine Missemer, 2017. "Les Économistes et la fin des énergies fossiles (1865-1931)," Post-Print halshs-01546579, HAL.
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    More about this item


    John Bates Clark; Monetary valuation; Theory of capital; Natural capital; History of economic thought; Irving Fisher; Alvin S. Johnson;

    JEL classification:

    • B1 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics


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