Trends in Natural Resource Commodities: Statistics of Prices, Output, Consumption, Foreign Trade, and Employment in the United States, 1870-1957

By Neal Potter; Resources for the Future | Go to book overview

Introduction

THE YEARS SINCE 1870 have been a period during which the United States was transformed from an undeveloped to a highly industrialized community. This book presents a collection of economic time series dealing with natural resource materials produced or consumed in the nation during those years.

At the beginning of the period, the output of iron ore in the United States was no more than it is today in such underdeveloped countries as India and Brazil, though the output of coal was perhaps eight times as great. The railway mileage was about the same as it is today in India and Pakistan, or twice that in Brazil. The amounts consumed of most of the basic materials of the modern economy — oil, steel, electricity, cement, rubber, etc. — were of course considerably less than those consumed today in India, Brazil, China, the Philippines, or any of the other underdeveloped countries. The intensity of use of agricultural land in the United States in the 1870's was also much less than in those countries (except perhaps Brazil) today, though probably the American methods of cultivation were more advanced.

During the period covered by this study, the United States moved from the position of capital importer to that of capital exporter; from being a net exporter of unprocessed materials to being a net importer; from significant net imports of manufactured goods to important net exports. As can be seen from the accompanying table, exports of raw materials in 1870-74 were nearly twice as great as imports, while imports of manufactures were more than twice exports. In 1953-57, both situations were approximately reversed.

The period was also characterized by a rapidly increasing urbanization: in 1870, one quarter of the people lived in cities; by 1950, the proportion of city dwellers to the total population had risen to 60 percent. It was also a period in which:

Population increased four-fold. Land appropriated for agricultural use almost tripled. Timber output more than tripled. Mining of bituminous coal increased 18-fold. Extraction of iron ore increased 26-fold.

TABLE 1. U.S. Net Imports of Materials and Manufactures (million dollars, current prices)
Crude
materials
and
crude
foodstuffs
Manu-
factured
foodstuffs
Semifinished
and
finished
manu-
factures
1870-74:
Imports 81 112 142
Exports 144 83 45
Net imports -63 29 97
1953-57:
Imports 2458 1158 2743
Exports 1635 1007 6424
Net imports 823 151 -3681
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census: Statis-
tical Abstract of the United States
, various years.

Extraction of copper ores increased 77-fold. Output of crude petroleum increased 490-fold.

The significance of long-term data on natural resource materials is indicated by the oft-repeated statement that this nation's unequaled wealth is a result largely of its great endowment of natural resources; and by the widely accepted doctrine that increasingly intense use and depletion of natural resources have a tendency to impair the nation's strength and reduce the future standard of living of its people. There have been repeated warnings of impending catastrophe — warnings which began at least 60 years ago. On the other hand, there have been many arguments to prove that technology can overcome increasing shortages of natural resources ad infinitum.1

It is not possible to resolve such sweeping arguments with statistical data; but it is hoped that the data presented here, being relatively consistent, covering a long time period and one of great changes, and being convenient and uniform, will enable the reader to get a broader perspective than has been possible heretofore and will provide him

____________________
1
See Harold J. Barnett and Chandler Morse, "Economics of Natural Resource Scarcity" (to be published by The Johns Hopkins Press, 1962).

-1-

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Trends in Natural Resource Commodities: Statistics of Prices, Output, Consumption, Foreign Trade, and Employment in the United States, 1870-1957
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Summary of the Trends *
  • Introduction 1
  • Highlights of the Data 3
  • Summaries for Principal Commodities 18
  • Statistical Tables 53
  • Notes on Data and Procedure 55
  • A List of Abbreviated References 63
  • Tabular Contents *
  • Serial List of Tables 68
  • Summary: Indexes for Sectors 73
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