Centre International de Recherche

sur l’Environnement et le Développement

Supervisory authorities

CNRS Ecole des Ponts CIRAD EHESS AgroParisTech

Our partners



Home > CIRED > Research contracts > BNRE Project

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

by Antoine Missemer - published on , updated on

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: Roberto Ferreira da Cunha (IHS CERA), Marco P. V. Franco (CEDEPLAR, UFMG)


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 (winter 2019)

After several progress meetings, and talks in conferences (ESHET and HES 2018 Conferences, Gide 2018 Conference, Orléans 2018 Conference on environmental economics), the outcomes of the project have been presented at the workshop ’Facts in Environmental and Energy Economics, Models and Practices, Past and Present’ (program), which gathered ca. 50 participants from ca. 10 countries to discuss about the articulation between theory, models and facts in past and present experiences of energy and environmental economics. A special issue in ’Œconomia’ will be published in 2020, with contributions from the workhop.

In terms of deliverables, several working papers are currently under review for publication in international journals in environmental and energy economics, and in history of economic though. For now, one paper is already out:

Gaspard, M. and Missemer, A. 2019. "An Inquiry into the Ramsey-Hotelling Connection", European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, [in press].
> https://doi.org/10.1080/09672567.2019.1576059

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.