growth: De Long view

Brad De Long delong at econ.Berkeley.EDU
Fri Mar 17 15:47:45 PST 2000

>Those of you who subscribe to Brad De Long's distribution list will
>have gotten today's speculation on economic growth. Here's the nut
>graf, as they say in the journalism trade:
>>So how much has material wealth grown in the past century?
>>If you do need a single number, the Boskin Commission's number,
>>that inflation has been overstated and real growth understated by
>>between 1 and 1.5 percent per year, is as good as any. Splitting
>>the difference, applying it to the past century, and taking into
>>account the decline in the number of hours worked per year all
>>produce an estimate that American real GDP and real incomes per
>>work hour have grown not sixfold but thirtyfold over the past
>Brad, does that mean we're thirty times happier than our ancestors?


For one thing, such a measured increase in material wealth makes sense for those of us in the middle (or upper) class in the industrial core only: the invention of the jet airplane adds to your quality of life only if you're rich enough to take plane flights.

For another, happiness is not that closely related to wealth, as Richard Easterlin keeps on arguing.

On the other hand, suppose you threatened to take me back in time and have me born not in 1960 but in 1860. I would pay everything I have to avoid it, for I would be dead of pneumonia at the age of 5...

And I, at least, cannot think of anyone in 1900 whom I would regard as being as well-off in a material-welfare sense as I am today...

Brad DeLong

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list