Friday, May 18, 2007

Quit Your Whining, It Could Be a LOT Worse

The graph above (click to enlarge) shows GDP growth over the last 2,000 years from year 0 to 1998 (Source: "The World Economy," by Angus Maddison, OECD). Notice that sustained growth in output of even 1% per year was not a reality until the 19th century, and sustained economic growth of 2-3% was not a reality until the last 50 years. A growth rate of just 3% means that output doubles every 24 years, which now happens at least 3 times during an average person's lifetime, which means we now actually experience significant increases in standard of living in a single lifetime.

Compare that to the pre-1800 period when economic growth was basically non-existent, which means that the standard of living for the average person was not much different in the 18th century compared to the standard of living in the 1st century. Or another way to think about it is that we can get more economic growth in a single year today (3%) than they used to get in a thousand years.

We might complain about income inequality and pay gaps, but those should be looked at as relatively minor complaints of a dynamic advanced economy growing an historically unprecedented rate of 3% - it could be a lot worse, it could be 507, 1207 or 1507 instead of 2007.