Thursday, October 2, 2008

Two centuries of American real per-capita GDP growth

Chris Blattman has a message for all the pessimists out there:
This is the best estimate of real income per capita in the United States since 1820.

Over these years we had violent financial crashes of various types, bank panics, piles of recessions and a huge depression, many foreign wars and one enormous domestic war, had a central bank and didn’t, were on the gold standard and weren’t, had governments topple in scandal and multiple leaders assassinated, and what did it all amount to in the medium to long run? In per-capita income terms: Nothing. The overall trend does not bend or shift. Every bad year was followed by a good year that returned us to trend.

The US average growth rate of real per capita incomes over the last 190 years has been 1.8% a year, and the same rate over the last 10 years has been…. 1.8% a year.

Stare at that graph: The Great Depression was traumatic in countless ways, but astonishingly, it’s not clear that we are any worse off today than we would be if the whole thing never occurred. Anyone who made such a claim in the 1930s would have been scoffed at, but that’s what happened.
We may be headed for a tough time over the next few years, but we'll get through it. We always do. And no, it's not different this time.

Note: The graph is showing real per capita GDP growth. That is, per capita GDP growth adjusted for inflation.

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