… is from pages 144-145 of the Timbro edition of Roger Tanner’s translation of Johan Norberg’s powerful 2001 book, In Defense of Global Capitalism (original emphasis):
It is not the countries with abundant raw materials that have grown fastest, and often they are held back, because natural assets give rise to internal conflicts. No, the main reason for the 20 per cent [of the world’s population] consuming 80 per cent of resources is that they produce 80 per cent of resources. The 80 per cent consume only 20 per cent because they only produce 20 per cent of resources. It is this latter problem we ought to tackle, the inadequate creative and productive capacity of the poor countries of the world, instead of waxing indignant over the affluent world producing so much. The problem is that many people are poor, and not that certain people are rich.
It bears repeating – and repeatedly repeating – that there is no such thing as a truly natural resource. All resources that have market value possess that value only because of human creativity and effort. Nothing that we today regard as valuable “natural resources” – not land, not forests, not petroleum, not iron ore, not magnesium, not fish, not New York harbor, nothing – would be a resource had not human creativity devised ways to make that thing into something so very useful to the achievement of human purposes that that thing becomes scarce.
And one happy consequence is that, having made some raw materials scarce by discovering previously unknown and economically viable uses for these materials, human creativity – in economies that are at least reasonably free – is set to work, by the very incentives that are ‘natural’ to free markets, at the task of making these resources less and less scarce over time.