Is the Great Enrichment Over?
you make the call
In her “Bourgeois Era” books economist Deirdre MCloskey proposes that the last 200 years represents a Great Enrichment on Planet Earth in which real per-capita income has increased by 30 times, or 3,000 percent.
Some years ago I decided to show this on my usgovernmentspending.com site, because I have areal GDP series and a population series.
And on my ukpublicspending.co.uk site.
In both case the y-axis is logarithmic. This means that if per-capita economic growth proceeds at a fixed rate you will see a straight line.
But, in fact, both for the US and for the UK, we see an exponential S-curve. That is to say, economic growth started off in the early 19th century at a low rate, then accelerated in the 20th century with a glitch or two.
But now, in the 21st century per-capita economic growth is definitely easing off.
Does that mean that the Bourgeois Era is coming to an end? Is the current slowdown in growth just applicable to the Anglosphere? Is it just a temporary pause?
If growth is easing off, is this because of climate change? Is it because of systemic racism? Is it because we are despoiling the planet? Is it because we are having fewer children and are not making provisions for the future? Or is it an artifact of the way that GDP and inflation are computed and may not fully reflect reality?
Or is it bigger than that, a reflection of a universal rhythm that we don’t even begin to understand?
Another thing: the US chart shows a pretty clear S-curve. But the UK shows slow growth until about 1820 — because of the Napoleonic Wars — then fast growth followed by a slowdown from about 1870 to 1945 — yes, what was that about, beyond the World Wars? And then there is rapid growth from 1945 to 2000 and stagnation in the 21st century. What’s that all about?
Really, your guess is as good as mine.