Fifteen years after the Global Financial Crisis: Recessions and Business Cycles in the History of Economic Thought

The coal question in peripheral Europe: Spanish economists on energy supply and industrialization in the 19th century

Calcagno Adriana, CNRS

In the 19th century, coal was central in European economic expansion, drawing the attention of economists such as Amédée Burat, John McCulloch, Nassau Senior, and W. Stanley Jevons. Until now, the literature has mostly focused on the treatment of the coal question, i.e. the role of coal in industrial development and the concerns associated with its future exhaustion, in leading countries such as Great Britain and France. There is a gap regarding how economists in less industrialized countries of peripheral Europe have apprehended the link between coal and development. This paper aims at filling this gap by focusing on Spanish economists (e.g. Pablo Pedrer, Plácido de Jove y Hevia) and on how the energy question was debated in relation to economic development in Spain in the 19th century. We show that, there, the economic debates on energy were embedded within larger debates. In particular, the controversy opposing free-traders to protectionists encompassed the questions of coal and mining industry. Spain did have some coal mines in the North, but their productive capacity was uncertain. The debate opposed those who wanted to protect that production from British coal to those who wanted to abolish taxes to import cheaper and better foreign coal. There were other debates, perhaps more characteristic to Spain, that revolved around the themes of sovereignty, industrialization and supremacy. In those discussions, coal was also perceived as an important element for Spain to regain the past glory it had as a great colonial power. Preliminary results point that whenever the question of coal was raised by economists, it was often within a larger discussion on economic policy and development. In other words, energy was not discussed on itself. And contrary to British and French economists, Spanish economists did not consider that the coal question was about exhaustion, rather about fostering the use of fuels. This sheds a new light on the ambivalent place of energy issues in the history of economic thought and on the variety of theoretical proposals according to the contexts of writing. This paper is part of the ERC StG ETRANHET project, hosted by CNRS, CIRED.

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: Energy, coal, industrialization, Spain, development

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