Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation by Edward B Barbier

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Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation by Edward B Barbier

Category: History
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Bone
Reviewed by Jill Bone
Summary: A timely history of the way economies have developed through natural resource exploitation, with insights into today's ecological crisis. Will be fascinating for anybody interested in history, economics or environmental issues.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 768 Date: December 2010
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 978-0521701655

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Scarcity and Frontiers is an ambitious, fascinating book that examines how the world's economies have developed by exploiting natural resources. Throughout history, states have responded to natural resource scarcity by developing new frontiers, hence the title. The book begins with the development of agriculture along the banks of the Nile and runs right through to the present day, finally questioning whether we are entering a new era of natural resource scarcity.

I was daunted at first. The book is a hefty tome that has introduced me to lots of new ideas, and it gets more challenging as it progresses through the later periods of history where the relationship between trade, natural resources and economic growth becomes more complicated. However, the text is set out in a clear way, with a concise introduction to each chapter that helped prepare me for the more detailed stuff. All of the charts and diagrams are fairly easy to decipher and I don't think Scarcity and Frontiers is just for students of economics and environmental issues.

It is refreshing to read a history book that is oriented in a different way, towards natural resource exploitation rather that battles and political machinations, which more conventional history books tend to focus on. In the first half of the second millennium Europe's trade oriented approach meant it could exploit natural resources from more diverse quarters than the great Chinese and Islamic empires, which were still fundamentally based on agriculture. The book traces the ascendancy of Europe, through its development of vital frontiers in the new world, through to what Barbier refers to as 'The Golden Age of resource based development'. Between 1880 and 1914, the world's economy grew at a phenomenal rate. The period represents a golden age because 'peripheral' countries rich in natural resources experienced positive economic growth at the same time as the developed 'core' countries that exploited those resources.

Apparently this is no longer the case and poor, resource rich countries are often unable to use these endowments effectively for their own economic growth. Barbier cites the worsening global economic imbalance as a major factor in the 2008-09 recession, and suggests that policy changes are necessary to lessen the disparity between the underdeveloped exporters of raw materials and the richer countries dependent on them.

In the final chapter, The Age of Ecological Scarcity? Barbier is at pains to point out that the ecological crisis is very much an economic one, too: 'if the environment is regarded as a scarce resource then the deterioration of the environment is also an economic problem.' He contends that there are vital lessons to be learned from the way economies dealt with natural resource scarcity in the past, which involved not just conserving scarce resources but also obtaining and developing more of them. In this context, renewable energy could be seen as the next great natural resource frontier. However we tackle the problem, it needs to be done fast and today's economies face a stark choice: 'Either we recognise the threat posed by the global scarcity problem and adopt the necessary conditions for sustainable economic development, or we face the growing human, environmental and economic costs imposed by worsening ecological scarcity.'

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas

Buy Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation by Edward B Barbier at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation by Edward B Barbier at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation by Edward B Barbier at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation by Edward B Barbier at Amazon.com.


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