Research Talk – Christopher Jones


Please join us for a research talk by Christopher Jones, Assistant Professor of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. This event is co-sponsored by the Orfalea Center’s Political Economy and Development Hub as well as UCSB’s Department of History.

Economic Growth on a Finite Planet: Robert Solow, Growth Theory, and the Environment

Theories of growth have had a curious trajectory within the history of economics. Classical economists Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill all devoted considerable attention to the topic, though all shared a pessimistic view that growth could be sustained. A stationary state, they agreed, was the most likely outcome. Surprisingly, during the prodigious expansion of industrial activity from 1850 to 1950, few economists tackled the subject systematically. This changed notably in 1956 and 1957 when Robert Solow authored a pair of influential essays that revitalized the topic. This talk examines the development and reception of Solow’s ideas, paying particular attention to the role of the natural world in modern growth theory, or more accurately, the lack thereof. Whereas the classical economists were acutely aware that natural resources – particularly land – presented finite limits to growth, Solow crafted a theory in which planetary sinks or stocks no longer appeared to constrain growth. This abstraction of the natural world was part of a broader transformation in economics over the course of the twentieth century that has divorced economic theory from the material world with significant consequences for ideas of growth and environmental policy.

About Dr. Christopher Jones

Christopher F. Jones is an Assistant Professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at ASU, as well as a Sernior Sustainability Scholar at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. His research examines the historical and social dimensions of energy systems. His first book, Routes of Power (Harvard, 2014) analyzes the causes and consequences of America’s first fossil fuel energy transitions–the rising use of coal, oil, and electricity in the mid-Atlantic region between 1820 and 1930. He is currently working on a project investigating the relationships between economic theories of growth and the consumption of nonrenewable energy resources in twentieth century America. Prof. Jones teaches courses on the history of energy transitions and energy and society.


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