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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 9, 2010

Thermodynamic laws, economic methods and the productive power of energy

  • Reiner Kümmel , Robert U. Ayres and Dietmar Lindenberger


Energy plays only a minor role in orthodox theories of economic growth, because standard economic equilibrium conditions say that the output elasticity of a production factor, which measures the factor's productive power, is equal to the factor's share in total factor cost. Having commanded only a tiny cost share of about 5 percent so far, energy is often neglected altogether. On the other hand, energy conversion in the machines of the capital stock has been the basis of industrial growth. How can the physically obvious economic importance of energy be reconciled with the conditions for economic equilibrium, which result from the maximization of profit or overall welfare? We show that these equilibrium conditions no longer yield the equality of cost shares and output elasticities, if the optimization calculus takes technological constraints on the combinations of capital, labor, and energy into account. New econometric analyses of economic growth in Germany, Japan, and the USA yield output elasticities that are for energy much larger and for labor much smaller than their cost shares. Social consequences are discussed.

Institute for Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics, University of Würzburg, D-97074 Würzburg, Germany. E-mail:

Received: 2009-11-24
Accepted: 2010-01-05
Published Online: 2010-07-09
Published in Print: 2010-July

© de Gruyter 2010

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