This thesis involves a review of the contributions to the theoretical mineral economics literature which were published in English in the period from 1776 to 1926. This thesis is, however, not merely a simple account or translation of what the authors reviewed had to say. In tracing developments in the literature it also documents changes in the views which its authors held about the future abundance of mineral resources.
This thematic treatment of the contrast between optimistic and pessimistic views of mining also involves comparison, throughout this work, of these developments with the more extensive and better documented development of views about the future abundance of agricultural lands. As the conclusion to this thesis will show, in spite of wide acceptance of optimistic views about agriculture, the culmination of one hundred and fifty years of analysis of the economics of mining involved the triumph of a generally pessimistic approach.
This thesis comprises two parts. The first part involves background material while the second contains both reviews of the work of authors who contributed to the literature and the conclusion to this study.
The two parts of this thesis are preceded by a general Introduction which outlines its objectives and indicates its scope. This Introduction also discusses the factors which prompted this study - including those relating to the prominence of contrasting views about future mineral resource availability. It also indicates the broad nature of the original contribution to the literature which this thesis involves and discusses the methodological foundation upon which it rests. Finally, the Introduction also indicates the nature of the two recent contributions to the literature which deal in part with the subject matter of this thesis.
Part I which is the smaller part of this study provides background material dealing with natural resource classification and. with the nature of return in mining. This part is introduced by Chapter 1 which discusses its purpose and content. Chapter 2 discusses the classification of natural resources. It not only gives a clear idea of the nature of the resources with which this study is concerned but also gives some indication of the importance of opposing views about the future availability of mineral resources. The relevance of these opposing views for mineral deposit values is considered in Chapter 3 where these values are linked to historical changes in physical return. In this chapter the particular nature of short run return in mining is also discussed.
Part II of this thesis is the larger part involving reviews of the relevant contributions to the literature. It is introduced by Chapter 4 which discusses in some detail each of the original contributions to the literature which this thesis makes. This chapter also briefly considers the typical format of the chapters which follow. With the exception of one chapter, each of the ten chapters which follow presents a review of the work of a single author. These authors are considered in chronological order of the publication of their work - the first, whose work is discussed in Chapter 5, is Adam Smith; the last, whose work is considered in Chapter 14, is Gustav Cassel. Taken as a whole, these ten chapters build up a picture of the way in which the theoretical treatment of mining developed over the period under review. In so doing they also present a picture of the range of views held about the future abundance of both mineral and agricultural resources.
One of the chapters in Part II of this thesis is not concerned with the work of a single author. This is Chapter 7 which considers the reasons for the contrast between the optimism of Adam Smith and the pessimism of Ricardo; these two authors being the first of the classical economists to consider mining in some detail.
The significance of the work of the authors reviewed in Part II is made clear in the chapters dealing with each of them; and in the Conclusion major consideration is given to the question of the integrity of the theory which had evolved by the end of the review period and to the thematic question of the extent to which optimism or pessimism about the future availability of mineral resources characterized the contributions of the authors reviewed. In relation to this latter aspect, an explanation is sought for the triumph of the pessimistic viewpoint in the twentieth century literature. It is concluded that this has resulted from a tendency for the greatest growth in the neoclassical literature to occur in times of particular concern about the adequacy of the natural resource endowment.