Journal Article

How did the Invisible Hand Handle Industrial Waste? By-product Development before the Modern Environmental Era

Pierre Desrochers

in Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History

Published on behalf of Business History Conference

Volume 8, issue 2, pages 348-374
Published in print June 2007 | ISSN: 1467-2227
Published online May 2007 | e-ISSN: 1467-2235 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/es/khm024
How did the Invisible Hand Handle Industrial Waste? By-product Development before the Modern Environmental Era

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A growing number of historians have turned their attention to the past behavior of industrialists toward their waste. Many have argued that the price system and competition typically fostered a short-term outlook that rewarded pollution rather than encouraging “loop-closing,” a modern term that refers to the linkages between different industries in which the residual of one becomes the input of another. Others have identified precedents in this respect that are credited to Progressive Era reformers. Building on evidence that has, by and large, escaped the attention of the present generation of historical writers, this essay challenges both views by arguing that market institutions, which included both profit motive and property rights, actually resulted in the usage of industrial by-products. Although past industrial activities did create significant pollution problems, perhaps our ancestors should be given more credit than they generally are for the creativity and resourcefulness they displayed in profitably solving numerous environmental problems.

Journal Article.  9913 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Business History

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