This infographic which ran on The Economist has been getting a lot of attention, and it’s worthy of the attention, too.
Of course, almost everything on this time scale is a hockey stick. Some people find this a bit alarming. Others think it is cause for celebration.
Wow! Just wonderful wow!
Lest we forget, amidst the daily/weekly/monthy/yearly ups and downs of the market, the market is an historically off-the-charts (almost literally) innovation machine.
Be happy that you live when you do and, if you live in the first world, where you do.
Now of course, the curmudgeonly likes of you and me don’t join in the celebration. We immediately think, I guess this sort of person has never learned about The Exponential, as explained by Prof. Bartlett.
But these guys don’t even have that excuse, as revealed in the comments:
I’m wondering about this…(just daydreaming)…The derivative is e^x. One might think that the derivative will always be e^x. History – and the future – always looks the most impressive to those alive/making it.
No, dude, that isn’t how exponentials behave in real-world applications, see… Eventually constraints that weren’t applicable in the early exponential growth phase appear and… Well, it gets complicated after that.
Anyway the reactions to this graph show that people are struck by different things. Others are struck by the triumphant march of civilization. I am struck by how little all this growth nets us.
I am struck that here we are, in the Great Recession or the Lesser Depression or whatever the hell it is. Yet the size of our economic activity exceeds that of any year in history prior to 2008. It substantially exceeds that of the rip-roaring 1990s and the Morning-In-America 1980s and utterly dwarfs the productivity of the postwar boom of the 1950s.
If production is wealth, we are in the richest period ever. We could afford to go to the moon in the 1960s. But now we are in “austerity” measures. We are forcing Greece to sell itself off to bankers. We are firing all our schoolteachers.
What exactly is this thing that has grown, then? And why should we be so happy about it?
Clearly, the thing that has grown is worse than worthless unless it keeps growing, since when it stops growing, we can’t afford to educate our children. And of course, as it gets bigger and bigger, it gets harder and harder to sustain the growth. So that being the case, what glorious achievement does the graph really show? It’s not only clear to me what is ominous about this graph. It’s actually unclear to me what is so inspiring about it.
It’s terrifying that this is a thing that has to grow exponentially all the time or else we have to immediately act on an emergency basis to shut down our civilization, cutting back on parks and cultural events, removing medical coverage from great swaths of the public, firing our schoolteachers. I don’t find a thing like that something to celebrate.
Somebody, tell me again, what is all this endless increase in activity yielding us?