Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Limits of Growth

(returning to my series on economics)

We finally come to one of the articles which triggered this whole thing...

His analysis is belaboring the obvious. Exponential growth, while exciting, is ultimately unsustainable. It's like the people who extend computing growth graphs to say that a hard drive can store the atomic state of a person for transporters in 2400 (Star Trek timeline), or show the temperature of CPU's reach that of the surface of the Sun.

At the same time, much of our economic wisdom is based on continual growth (see the previous post in this series).

Fifty years ago, it seemed certain that growth could be sustained through advanced technology (fission and fusion), and additional resources would come from expansion into space.

Today, that is far from certain.

The most important factor in the economy is people, and a growing economy requires a growing population.

Population has grown at about 2% (doubling every 35-40 years). This compares favorable with economic growth of 4-5%. Every forty years, you have twice as many people and four times the goods and services. There will not be equal distribution, but there is plenty to go around.

The most important good is food. The last hundred years have seen remarkable progress in this area. We produce more food with less people and land than ever before. Part of the cost of this is increased use of energy and fertilizer.

Similarly, modern conveniences require power (mostly electricity). Power production and distribution has not been spectacular, but has managed to provide what we need.

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