Shocked and Persuaded


Separating Fact From Fiction

Peak GDP

It seems that we may be hitting the point the Romans and many others inevitably approached and violently surpasses. It is the point at which our cumulative GDP growth has flattened out while population growth continues to grow albeit at a mild rate.

To the right you see a graph of the ratio of Cumulative Annual US GDP to Population Growth from 1930 to 2008.


This ratio did not become positive until 1940 on the eve of WW II and spiked at the war’s conclusion in 1944-45. At this point this ratio began a steady decline to a low of 4.52 in 1963. While it experienced a bump between the 60s and late 90s it has remained relatively flat between 1950 and 2008 deviating very little from it’s ~60 yr average of 5.43.

Another way of looking at this “Economic Ceiling” is from an agricultural perspective. I have plotted the Yield to Nitrogen (N) Applied ratio for Corn here in the US from 1943-2007. On the Primary Y- and X-Axis the relationship for the raw data is shown, while the Secondary Y- and X-Axis depicts the relationship on a log scale. We see two things here: 1) the shape of the relationship is dependent on how the data is presented and 2) the raw data demonstrates quite conclusively that we have reached a similar asymptote to that described above for our economy relative to population growth. This is a disturbing trend given our over reliance on corn here in the US. GMOs and fertilizer technology will only be able to do so much in fighting this apparent biological inertia. The rest of the quagmire will require a new paradigm if it is to be fixed. That should include a gradual transition to a more diverse produce and dry goods food economy in keeping the the proselytizing of Michael Pollan. However, alot of this will involve tough medicine, which should start with decreasing national obesity from it’s current rate of 33% to 15% or what it was in 1980. This may sound quixotic but really it is a necessity and weening ourselves off our addiction to High Fructose Corn Syrup would probably put a 5-7% dent in our national obesity on it’s own.


It is high time we start to seriously discuss the idea that Eugene Fama’s “Efficient Market Hypothesis”, Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”, and Milton Friedman’s “Shock Doctrine” are a thing of the past designed solely to benefit the top 0.1-0.5% of the G20, G8, or OECD. We must turn our attention to what I will call an Asymptotic Economic Hypothesis or the Steady State Economy ( acknowledging the ubiquitous influence of Keynes’s “Animal Spirits” and the fact that nothing grows forever.

economic-growthIt would be absolutely acceptable if we didn’t shift towards an economy with strict ceiling and floor constraints BUT if we do our children will be very mad at us!

Category: Ecological Economics, Economics, Energy

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