Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The history of world production, in three graphs

Yes, GDP is a very imperfect measure, but look at this graph showing GDP (as a proxy for production) over the last two millennia:

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You should read this in the context of the graph below showing how the world changed for the better around two-hundred years ago—from being a flat line for most of world history, production all of a sudden shot up out of nowhere to support a rapidly growing population.  What a great thing. At least this is what happened in the parts of the world where the Age of Enlightenment happened—that remarkable period in human affairs when human beings began applying reason to understand the world around them, and in the ensuing Industrial Revolution to transform it.

But as we can see above, China and India, were excluded from this happy state of affairs, at least until very recently (being a logarithmic graph the last few decades are as prominent as the first few centuries). And in Africa and the Middle East, have still yet to enjoy it.

And just ignore the big grey slug that is Russia. They were lying about their production figures long before the Bolsheviks came along.

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Practice Good Theory has more thoughts.

And in case you don’t think production and wealth is such a good thing, Stephen Hicks has a neat graph showing the relationship between wealth and life expectancy.   If you’re over 45 or so, you should take it seriously.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous philip meguire said...

Graph #1: Please understand that every number in Maddison's work dated before 1700 is educated guess work. Often we can do little more than make an educated guess at the population, estimate the minimum diet needed to keep the population alive, back out the implied annual crop. Scholars then multiply the size of the annual crop by the price per unit estimated from very fragmentary data on wholesale prices.

Niall Ferguson has pointed out that the recent surge in China's share of world production can be seen as China's return to the dominant role in the world economy it held for millenia before 1500 or so.

Graph #2: there have been three great changes in the human condition. The first was language, and the second was the discovery of agriculture. The details of both transitions are lost in the sands of time. The third change is commonly termed "the Industrial Revolution. I submit that the late 18th century Industrial Revolution was preceded by a scientific and commercial revolution that began in Shakespeare's day. In turn, both were preceded were preceded by the routinisation of Arabic numerals, starting around 1450, and the invention of algebra, 1550-1620.

I commend to your attention Albert Crosby's book on the medieval emergence of rationality grounded in calculation, and John Derbyshire's 2006 history of algebra.

There is nevertheless, some evidence of a gradual improvement in the material conditions of Italy and northwest Europe between the Battle of Hastings and the Black Death. Towns grew, supported by a rising class of merchants and manufacturers. Yeoman farmers gradually displaced feudal estates worked by serfs and tenant farmers.

Graph #3: health outcomes are strongly correlated with income, wealth and educational attainment. We are not sure of the details. Here's a stab. The industrial revolution generated the prosperity that it made it possible to trade in long drops for flush loos, for tap water to be germ-free, and to eat meat whose proneness to rot is arrested by refrigeration rather than curing.

7/12/2012 05:55:00 am  

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