David Rockefeller, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, died recently at the age of 101. He was known for many things. But perhaps the least known of his accomplishments was his dissertation for which he was awarded a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1940. This dissertation was published by the University of Chicago Press as a book in 1941 entitled Unused Resources and Economic Waste. Although the book is hard to find, I was able to secure a copy and read it. I include here the Preface from the book (Rockefeller, Preface).
The book is very heavily influenced by Frank H. Knight. This means that there is much subtlety, self-critical reflection and, above all, caution in the claims made. It also shows the less beneficial influence of Abba P. Lerner insofar as Rockefeller buys the market-socialist idea that under a form of socialism the attributes of pure competition might be approximated. Nevertheless, this idea is of quite minor importance in the book. The topic of the dissertation (and hence the book) was suggested by F.A. Hayek when Rockefeller was at student at the London School of Economics for one year in the mid-1930s.
The book, as the title indicates, is about unused resources and whether or not they constitute waste from an economic perspective. The topic was a major concern during the Great Depression and thereafter. Unfortunately, Rockefeller does not deal with the business cycle issues that may have been foremost in the reader’s mind (both then and today). Nevertheless, there is a good deal of valuable analysis regarding the connection – or lack thereof – between unused resources and waste.