Re: poly: World Economic History

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Mon Jun 22 1998 - 16:50:48 PDT

Carl writes:
>>> Doubling Time Dominant Period DT factor WP factor
>>> ------------- ------------------------- --------- ---------
>>> 500,000 yrs 1M B.C. to ~300K B.C. ? 9
>>> 140,000 yrs. ~300K B.C. to 5000 B.C. 4 6
>>> 860 yrs. 5000 B.C. to 1700 155 196
>>> 58 yrs. 1700 to 1900 15 11
>>> 15 yrs. 1900 to 2000 4 37
>1. (<140,000 BC) Evolution toward better tool-using abilities. ...
>stone tool production showed ... only a very slow improvement with
>time until about 100,000 years ago. ... language had not been
>developed ... knowledge that could be learned by imitation ...

This needs more work to distinguish it from imitation among other
animals. And the model time is ~300,000 yrs, not 140,000 yrs.

>2. (<5000 BC) During this period, language permitted the development of
>more complex technologies and cultural innovations, like spearthrowers,
>clothing, canoes, and trade.

Language seems a really big development, naturally.

>3. (<1700 AD) The development of agriculture made the improvement and
>diffusion of domesticated plants and animals the main avenue of growth.
>... 860 years sounds like a reasonable doubling time for yield of crops
>and animals: ...

Interesting theory. It is clear that there was little agriculture much
before 5000 bc ? Could agri-specialists confirm this as a
reasonable doubling period?

>4. (<1900 AD) The development of long-distance sea travel permits the
>rapid spread of good ideas around the world, and the development of
>regional division of labor. This coincides with the conquest of the world
>by Western Europe. (this one is kind of shaky...)

This is indeed the most speculative of your items. But it might be
tested by looking at the doubling times of international trade before
1700. We have stats on the merchant trade in Europe, for example.

>5. (<2000 AD) The recognition that rational methods could be applied to
>the solution of technical problems made development immensely faster. We
>can see signs of this in Ben Franklin's practical inventions (mid-18th
>century), the development of thermodynamics for steam engines and
>electromagnetism for telegraphs (early 19th century), the creation of
>schools of engineering (MIT founded 1860), and Edison's invention of the
>R&D lab (late 19th century).

The strongest support for this is the fact that scientific progress had
about the same as current doubling time for several centuries before the
world economy had current doubling times.

>... Each stage takes a long time to squeeze out the
>previous stages. So we can look around us for occupants of the next stage.
> Most of us won't have to look very far, because we are them: we are
>information workers in a bit-centered economy. If the proverb that an
>internet year equals seven ordinary years is true, we can say that the new
>doubling time is two years, and the DT factor is 7. If there are 6,000,000
>people in the new economy, and 6,000,000,000 in the old one, it will take
>roughly 20 years for the new economy to become dominant.
>Stage 7 will become dominant sometime between 2024 and 2038, and will have
>a doubling time between a week and six months.

Have the number of people in the "bit economy" really been doubling every two
years?! I seriously doubt this.

I suspect (but aren't sure) that there have been many examples of things which
doubled faster than the world econony, and they slowed down when they got big
enough. So just because you see something growing faster than the world
economy doesn't mean that it will birth a new growth mode.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-2627
Received on Tue Jun 23 00:10:10 1998

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Mar 07 2006 - 14:45:30 PST