“Running out of resources” has been a common refrain among the intellectual class and policymakers since the beginning of the oil industry. L. C. Gray (1913) and Harold Hotelling (1931) cemented the fixity-depletion view of minerals that swept the economics profession; so did the presidency of Jimmy Carter, in the (regulatory-induced) troubled 1970s.
Remember the lament of James Schlesinger, the first energy secretary for Carter’s new Department of Energy: “We have a classic Malthusian case of exponential growth against a finite source.” And the confident conclusion of Amory Lovins:
All oil and gas resources should be carefully husbanded—i.e. extracted as late and as slowly as possible. Our descendents will be grateful. We, too, shall need a long bridge to the future.
But when surplus conditions with oil and gas returned in the 1980s, the lost voices of Erich Zimmermann and M.…