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Towards environmental historical national accounts for oil producers: methodological considerations and estimates for Venezuela and Mexico over the 20th century

Rubio Varas, Maria del Mar (2002) Towards environmental historical national accounts for oil producers: methodological considerations and estimates for Venezuela and Mexico over the 20th century. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.9hkrchkxw2lc


Environmental accounting literature reminds us that prosperity can be ephemeral if it is built on depletion of natural resources. Traditional national accounting practice ignores the loss of natural resources. According to standard environmental accounting, this produces exaggerated income, encourages unsustainable levels of consumption and is misleading when assessing the economic prospects of resource extracting countries. While the historiography of oil-extracting countries departs from entirely different concepts and methods, it contains plenty of arguments that resemble those of the environmental accountants. This thesis shows how Mexican and Venezuelan scholars have discussed the concept of national wealth, the ephemeral prosperity delivered by oil depletion and the biases that oil cash introduced in the perceptions of their countries' economic performance. Nonetheless the arguments in the historiography lack quantitative support for the most part. The dissertation connects these previously disparate literatures and explores the resulting synergies. A priori, it seems that environmental accounting provides the tools for quantifying the hitherto qualitative observations of the historiography of two countries with very different strategies regarding the depletion of their natural resources. While Mexico approximates very closely the theoretical case of a closed economy, Venezuela has been considered the textbook example of a resource-export-driven economy. In the end, history proves to be an excellent laboratory for an ex-post analysis of the concepts, models and methods of environmental accounting. This study contributes to the surprisingly small amount of comparative historical studies of the oil industries and the economic histories of Venezuela and Mexico. The most important conclusion derived from the comparative analysis of the theoretical models of environmental accounting is that the competing methods available in the literature seem to apply to different scenarios. Furthermore, the results of the thesis show that the role of technological change in sustaining the historical levels of consumption is substantial since the terms of trade did not improve in the continuous way needed to rescue economies from declining levels of consumption. This is an important finding because gains from trade have now been included in some environmental accounting models but technological change is left out. Overall, the thesis is an examination of the tractability and usefulness of environmental accounting as a tool of economic analysis over the long run.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2002 Maria del Mar Rubio Varas
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History

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