The 2008/2009 recession in the U.S. is perceived as a deep and painful fall in real GDP. It is now a common place to show the current estimate of real GDP far below the long term growth trend. Many experts consider the point of complete recovery of the U.S. economy as the intercept with this trend somewhere in the future. This is a wrong assumption. One should exclude the extensive factor of total population growth from real GDP since the total population does not grow at the same rate as before. One confuses real economic growth with demographic fluctuations. Here we present the history of economic growth in terms of real GDP per capita.
Previously in this blog, we found that real GDP per capita in developed countries grows as a linear function of time. Similarly to classical mechanics, we interpret this linear growth as “inertial” growth. When the population pyramid does not change over time one can write the following relationship for real GDP per capita, G(t):
G(t) = At + C (1)
Relationship (1) defines the linear trajectory of the GDP per capita, where C=Gi(t0)=G(t0) and t0 is the starting time. In the regime of inertial growth, the real GDP per capita increases by the constant value A per time unit. Figure 1 shows that the annual increment A in the U.S. is practically constant between 1950 and 2010. (All data are borrowed from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.) This plot validates our empirical finding. Overall, 19 biggest developed countries demonstrate the same behavior between 1950 and 2010.
It is time to compare the trends in real GDP and GDP per capita. Figure 2 depicts the evolution of both variables between 1950 and 2010 and also presents the relevant trends. The real GDP curve has an exponential shape as related to the growth in total population. One can easily observe the current deviation from the exponential trend and blame poor economic conditions after 2007.
The real GDP per capita evolves along a straight line. There is no significant deviation from the linear trend in the past 4 years. Moreover, during these years the observed curve returned to the long-term trend. In this sense, the current downward correction is a natural consequence of the fundamental law of inertial economic growth. One should not confuse economy with demography. The latter is responsible for 200 per growth in real GDP from 1950 to 2010, i.e. the total population has increased by a factor of 2 since 1950.
Figure 1. Annual increment of real GDP per capita in the U.S. between 1950 and 2010.
Figure 2. The evolution of real GDP and real GDP per capita between 1950 and 2010.