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Depletionism Reconsidered: A 2004 Article Revisited

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- March 6, 2013

[Editor Note: This nearly decade-old article, Are We Running Out of Oil?, is reprinted by the author for its relevance today. A likely error in the article (even Julian Simon adherents can be too pessimistic!) is conceding that M. King Hubbert correctly predicted the 1970 peak of U.S. oil production (9.6 mmb/d then vs. 5.7 mmb/d in 2011). However, domestic output has increased 13% since 2008 and is rapidly rising. A March 4th article on the failure of peak-oil predictions inspired this look-back.]

“Vainly, economists working in the fixity paradigm have looked for a ‘depletion signal’ in the empirical record—some definitive turning point at which physical scarcity overcomes human ingenuity. A new research program is in order. Applied economists should focus upon institutional change to explain and quantify changes in resource scarcity.”