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M. A. Adelman on Resourceship (Part II)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 13, 2014

“The distinction between renewable and non-renewable resources is tenuous and perhaps in the last analysis untenable.”

– M. A. Adelman, The Economics of Petroleum Supply (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1993), p. 66.

M. A. Adelman, profiled yesterday, was an empirically driven energy economist. He was not a Malthusian because the data suggested otherwise. He found with petroleum what Julian Simon found in the the family of mineral resources.

Adelman’s writings richly describe the way to understand the paradox of expanding depletable resources. He emphasized that oil was a fungible, global commodity, and improving knowledge can overcome diminishing returns in different regions and certainly globally.

And Adelman captured a point that Alex Epstein today stresses: that oil is not a ‘natural resource’ but a man-made one, from finding the treasure in the ground to refining the raw material into useful human products to transporting the inputs to delivering the outputs to points of human consumption.…