Abstract and Keywords
This chapter surveys the role of natural resources in American economic history, from colonial times to the present. The central theme is that natural resources do indeed have a history: to a very considerable degree, American resource abundance has been “socially constructed” through responses to economic incentives, investments in transportation, and development of technologies of exploration and extraction using advanced forms of knowledge. During the nineteenth century, Americans adapted their technologies and consumption patterns toward wood to an extent unmatched in the world at that time. The country’s rise to world leadership in minerals was not based primarily on geological endowment, but on an accommodating legal environment, expansion of the infrastructure of public knowledge, and investment in higher mining education. Recent American developments in shale oil and shale gas confirm the historical generalization that natural resources are not given by nature but by policy choices and human behavior.
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