Does the invisible hand have a green thumb?Incentives, linkages, and the creation of wealth out of industrial waste in Victorian England


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Loop closing', that is, the creation of waste recycling linkages between differentindustries, has been hailed as a means of simultaneously achieving improved economicand environmental performance. As a result of the widespread assumption that traditionalmarket incentives and institutions are not conducive to such an outcome, however, thereremains a fair amount of scepticism as to what the capacity of business self-interest topromote this behaviour actually is. This article challenges the dominant negativeperspective by discussing by-product development in one of the most market-orientedsocieties in human history, Victorian England. Building on nineteenth and early twentiethcentury writings on the topic, as well as a more detailed analysis of the development ofvaluable by-products from highly problematic iron and coal gas production residuals, acase is made that the search for increased profitability within the context of privateproperty rights often simultaneously promoted economic and environmental progress inthe long run, as well as on different geographical scales.



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