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Accueil > Le CIRED > Contrats de recherche > BNRE Project

Bifurcations in Natural Resources Economics (1920s-1930s)

par Antoine Missemer - publié le , mis à jour le

Funded by the European Society for the History of Economic Thought (ESHET)
Research Grants Programme | 2017-2019

Coordinator : Antoine Missemer (CNRS, CIRED Paris)

Members : Marion Gaspard (Université Lyon 2, Triangle), Thomas M. Müller (Université Paris 8), Franck Nadaud (CNRS, CIRED Paris)

Associate members : Nathalie Berta (Université Reims CA, REGARDS), Roberto Ferreira da Cunha (IHS CERA), Marco P. V. Franco (CEDEPLAR, UFMG), Louis-Gaëtan Giraudet (ENPC, CIRED)


The project "Bifurcations in Natural Resources Economics (1920s-1930s)" explores the historical period when (exhaustible) natural resources economics split into two trends : on the one side, a trend of theoretical modelling, after L. C. Gray’s seminal contributions (1913 ; 1914) and on the road to H. Hotelling’s model (1931) ; on the other side, a trend of empirical applied studies embodied by the Brookings Institution energy programme (see Tryon, 1927 ; Tryon and Eckel, 1932), which concentrated on the tricky issue of (de)coupling between energy consumption and economic output. This episode is very little documented in history of economic thought. Yet, since it deeply structured the subsequent evolution of natural resources economics, it may shed light on several controversies (conflicts between theoretical modelling and empirics, methods of measurement of decoupling, etc.), and provide insights about the uses of some mathematical tools in economics (calculus of variations, inter-temporal optimisation methods, index, etc.). The project aims at presenting, analysing and discussing the two trends, both from an institutional and intellectual point of view (participants, backgrounds, political impact), and from an analytical point of view (economic questions, theoretical frameworks, mathematical methods).

With regards to theoretical modelling, the focus will be put on the elaboration and reception of the Hotelling model, and its famous “rule” of inter-temporal optimisation, in the 1920s and 1930s. In this direction, archival material will be used. As regards empirical studies, the Brookings Institution energy programme will be scrutinised through a long run view on the history of resources economics (How did it differ from past analyses ?), and from a history of statistical tools view, by situating the programme among other attempts of building index and time series in applied economics at the time. A last research path will be dedicated to the potential cross-relationships between the two trends, and to what these relationships may say about the competing roles of theoretical modelling and empirics in the field and beyond.

Because inter-temporal resources distribution and decoupling are two hot topics in sustainability studies, the project is designed to foster dialogue between historians of thought and contemporary economists.

Advancement of the project (fall 2017)

After a launch meeting held in Paris in May 2017, with new participants initially not involved in the project (L.-G. Giraudet, ENPC - CIRED, R. da Cunha, CIRED, N. Berta, Univ. Reims), the BNRE project started with an archival visit in Hotelling papers (Columbia University, NYC), in June 2017. With the help of the Rare Books & Manuscripts Library staff, we have collected many pieces of correspondence, drafts and notes from Hotelling for the period 1920s-1960s. This material still needs to be fully organized and examined to perfectly surround which documents will be directly useful for the BNRE project. But a quick view has already suggested to us that potential real inputs exist. More broadly speaking, with respect to the availability of Hotelling papers for the whole HET community, some material could be interesting for scholars looking at the history of econometrics, welfare economics, mathematical economics and so on. Once the BNRE project is finished, we hope to make this material available to colleagues, who will just have to contact us to get access to the documents.

Next step will be the general workshop of the project, to take place at CIRED (Paris) in October 2018.

How to get informed about the project

The advancement and results of the research will be updated on this webpage. Interested scholars may also contact the coordinator of the project by e-mail or follow some participants on Twitter (@ant_mis1, @Marion_Gaspard) to get informed.

General workshop

"Facts in Environmental and Energy Economics,
Models and Practices, Past and Present"

International workshop at CIRED, Paris, 19-20 October 2018. This workshop, sponsored by the ESHET via the #BNREproject, by CIRED, Triangle-Lyon 2 and LED-Paris 8 will be the occasion for historians of thought, economists, econometricians, social scientists, specialists in economic methodology or epistemology, and economic or environmental historians to discuss about the articulation between theories, models and facts (broadly speaking) in the past and present environmental and energy economics literature.

Prof. Arthur Petersen (UCL) will give a plenary talk about the interdisciplinary dialogue for the elaboration of Integrated Assessment Models. A roundtable (sponsored by the Modeling for Sustainable Development Chair) will also be taking place with three eminents scholars : Roger Guesnerie (Collège de France), Kirsten Halsnæs (DTU) and Jean-Charles Hourcade (CNRS-CIRED). Around 20 presentations by young and senior scholars from Europe and America are expected, including preliminary results from the #BNREproject.

There is the final program of the workshop : provisional program

The registration period is now over. People interested in the workshop can contact workshopcired2018[at]gmail.com to get news about future outcomes.

Call for papers