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M. A. Adelman: A Final Salute (Part I)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 12, 2014

“Diminishing returns are opposed by increasing knowledge, both of the earth’s crust and of methods of extraction and use. The price of oil, like that of any mineral, is the uncertain fluctuating result of the conflict.”

– M. A. Adelman, quoted in Michael Lynch, “Morris A. Adelman, Petroleum Economist, Has Passed Away,” Forbes, May 9, 2014.

A giant of petroleum economics, MIT economist Morry Adelman, died last week at the age of 96.  (A short mention in the Boston Globe is here.)

Unlike the Malthusians and peak-oilers in particular, Adelman kept his eye on marginal costs and institutions (resource ownership, government policy) to understand that oil was not a fixed, depleting asset but, at least potentially, a super-abundant, expanding one. To grow and thrive, petroleum needed market incentives just like plants need water to grow and thrive.