‘Superabundance’ and the Enemies of Exchange
A new book refutes the pervasive economic pessimism in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Believe it or not, this is Capitolism’s two-year anniversary, and I can’t think of a better topic to cover for the big celebration. Anyway, on to the show:
As you all know, I’m a fan of charts. (Yes, okay, that’s an understatement; let’s move on.) If done right, they convey immense amounts of information in just a glance, quickly settling debates on important issues. Yet one of my favorite charts—and one that I think explains so much about so many topics—is often ignored in our policy and political discourse:
As the chart shows, and as Jonah and others have discussed at length, humans suffered through millennia of misery, with little change in wealth or living standards, and then something miraculous happened around the 18th century: Economic growth exploded. And, even after wars and famines and everything else, it never really looked back. It’s a pretty incredible visual—one mirrored at the country and individual levels (though more staggered over time). And you’d think it’d be something policymakers are constantly noting and probing for answers to today’s big challenges. What happened? Why did it happen? And how can we keep it going? (Etc.)
Yet, when you bring up the radical improvement in global and per capita gross domestic product over the last few centuries, the reaction is rarely that kind of optimistic curiosity. Instead, it’s skepticism, if not outright derision. These data fail to consider, so the argument goes, widespread environmental destruction, rampant inequality, persistent global poverty, or the ever-increasing burdens on the working class.
(It is, quite frankly, exhausting.)