Si le grand économiste argentin Raul Prebisch était vivant aujourd'hui, il ne fait aucun doute qu'il se demanderait si le monde s'est mis à tourner à l'envers. Sa théorie largement influente de la dépendance avançait que si les pays pauvres se reposaient trop sur les exportations de matières premières, ils n'atteindraient jamais le niveau industriel nécessaire pour soutenir une croissance rapide. Ils s'embourberaient à la place dans un cycle de déclin mondial des prix des matières premières et de réduction sans fin de la part des revenus.

La réponse favorite de Prebisch, le protectionnisme, s'est avérée désastreuse pour les nombreux pays d'Amérique latine et d'Afrique qui l'ont suivie. Mais le fait est que pendant des années, Prebisch semble avoir eu la réaction juste au sujet des tendances des prix des matières premières sur le long terme. Les gains permanents d'efficacité dans les secteurs de l'agriculture et de l'extraction des ressources naturelles ont fait baisser les prix des matières premières, surtout dans les années 1980 et 1990. À quelques exceptions près, les pays qui se sont concentrés sur les exportations de matières premières n'ont obtenu que de piètres résultats, alors que les pays asiatiques ne disposant que de peu de ressources ont fait des progrès rapides.

Aujourd'hui cependant, avec les géants asiatiques, l'Inde et la Chine, qui rejoignent l'économie mondiale, les prix de l'essence, de l'or, du blé et de pratiquement toutes les autres matières premières explosent. Certes, il y aura toujours des cycles (le prix du pétrole, par exemple, chutera sans doute à nouveau avant de recommencer son ascension) mais la tendance à long terme de nombreuses matières premières restera clairement à la hausse pour quelques temps encore.

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