Economic growth

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Worldwide gross domestic product per capita 1500 to 2003

Under economic growth , an increase in economic output (depending on country, region or global) is fully understood over time generally. The most common unit of measurement is the percentage change in gross domestic product (GDP) over time as a monthly, quarterly or annual growth rate. These percentage growth rates are calculated as the quotient of the change in domestic product and the value in the previous period.


Real growth of the world and the OECD countries according to World Bank data and OECD data.

Economic growth is often linked to the intertemporal development of the gross domestic product . The gross domestic product measures the total value of the goods and services that are provided in an economy within a year.

Different adjectives are used to describe different forms of growth:

nominal vs. real
A basic distinction is made between nominal and real GDP growth . The two methods differ in the valuation of value added : With nominal growth, value added is valued using market prices , so that any changes in market prices due to inflation and deflation lead to an increase or decrease in growth. Real growth, on the other hand, is adjusted for price increases in the context of inflation / deflation - according to this concept, the actual real performance development of the economy as a whole is measured.
absolute vs. relative
Comparison of linear and exponential growth using Germany as an example
Absolute growth describes the change in gross domestic product compared to the previous year. In Germany, for example, in the mid- 1950s , the adjusted gross domestic product per capita was the equivalent of around 5,000 euros. It increased by around 500 euros per person per year. Relative growth now describes the growth rate , i.e. around 10 percent. At the beginning of the nineties , the GDP per capita rose to around 25,000 euros and the growth rate fell to 2%. This corresponds to an unchanged absolute growth of 500 euros per capita. Economic output did not increase exponentially (with a constant growth rate), but rather linearly , as in other industrialized countries.
extensive vs. intensive
Extensive growth denotes an increase in the gross domestic product of a state, but not necessarily an improvement in the supply of goods per capita if the population growth is greater than the economic growth. There is intense growth when per capita income rises, i.e. when the GDP growth rate exceeds that of the population. With a shrinking population and increasing labor productivity, gross domestic product can decrease, but per capita income (prosperity) can increase. This can be achieved by increasing labor productivity , but also by increasing working hours: the gross domestic product per inhabitant in the United States is 26% higher than in Germany, but the gross domestic product per hour worked is only 6% (as of 2008).
quantitative vs. qualitative
Quantitative growth describes a purely quantitative economic growth or the political attempt to solve “all economic, social and political problems primarily with economic growth”. Qualitative growth (or green growth ) denotes an increase in the national product through improved quality and structural change, which contributes to the increase of overall social prosperity without excessively polluting the environment.

Importance of economic growth

Measurement of economic activity

Countries by level of GDP per capita (2015), see related list
Countries by rate of economic growth in 2017, see related list

Real gross domestic product (GDP) was designed as an important indicator for economic and monetary policy . It measures economic activity and thus a country's capacity to create material wealth. The gross domestic product per capita is an important indicator of the prosperity and quality of life of a country's population.

Aim of economic policy

Sustainable Development Goals , number 8: Sustainable economic growth and decent work

After the Second World War, economic growth established itself as the main goal of state economic policy. Growth ensures a greater mass of distribution, so that social goals are more easily attainable, which is why it has been touted by some politicians as a panacea. In Germany, steady and appropriate economic growth is anchored in the Stability and Growth Act of 1967 as an economic policy goal, alongside an external balance, low unemployment and price stability as the cornerstone of the “ magic square ” . And the Stability and Growth Pact of the European Union is to promote the goal of economic growth explicitly.

Economists such as Benjamin M. Friedman emphasize that economic growth, especially in developing countries, promotes political and social reforms in addition to raising living standards, enables economic mobility, fairness and tolerance and forms the substance of democracy . For example, in times of economic stagnation or contraction in the USA (1880s, 1890s, 1920s and after the oil crisis ), negative attitudes towards immigration as well as increased racist and religious prejudices emerged, while generosity towards the poor and the strength of democracy would have decreased in these times. Friedman considers it inappropriate, one between moral and material progress conflict to see.

While for many decades political economic growth has been viewed primarily from a quantitative perspective, the OECD is now also placing a stronger focus on qualitative growth , which is supposed to enable an increase in prosperity with less pollution and less consumption of limited raw materials. According to UNESCO and the United Nations, the protection of cultural property , high-quality education, cultural diversity and social cohesion in armed conflicts are also particularly necessary for qualitative growth . Growth could be shifted from the industrial sector to the service and information sector (immaterial growth) and exhaustible raw materials and energy sources such as crude oil could be replaced by renewable energies . But also through environmentally-oriented technical progress , e.g. For example, recycling , miniaturization or innovative new products could “lead to a decoupling of growth and the use of natural capital or nature as a sink”. Growth does not necessarily have to go hand in hand with increasing environmental pollution, because economic growth in the advanced industrialized nations is now based more on an increase in services than an increase in goods and contains an increasing share of environmental technology. There are always new ideas and innovations for economic growth that will never come to an end. Human creativity is the ultimate resource and provides substitutes for ecological scarcity .

A literature review of several hundred studies by the European Environmental Bureau showed, however, that there is so far no empirical evidence for a decoupling of environmental pollution and economic growth. The few studies that showed decoupling were methodologically inadequate and also only showed temporary and spatially limited decoupling or were limited to a few short-lived pollutants. It should therefore be assumed that green economic growth is a "statistical invention".

Connection with employment (work)

Economic growth is seen by most economists as necessary to prevent or reduce the unemployment rate . Some authors even describe this dependency as a political growth pressure . This is mainly discussed in connection with the so-called employment threshold. This tries to indicate from which economic growth new jobs arise. The reason for the existence of such an employment threshold is, for example, ongoing rationalization processes through which workers are made redundant. In order to compensate for this permanent decline, the economy must grow (with the supply of jobs remaining the same). These assumptions are based on Okun's law , which further implies that even with strong growth, a proportionally smaller increase in demand for labor must be expected due to the improvement in capacity utilization. Arthur Melvin Okun empirically investigated the relationship between economic growth and unemployment. Economic recoveries led to a "as in the 1990s, employment growth Free (English:" jobless recovery or jobless growth ) referred to effect recovery and growth without job creation. Attempts at explanation include factors such as automation, increasing the productivity of workers based on Okun's law, and extending actual working hours. The employment threshold in Germany has been around 2% for a long time since 1990. As a result, it fell to 1% in 2005. As a result of the so-called Hartz reforms , most economists expected a lowering of the employment threshold because less attractive jobs in the low-wage sector would also be accepted.

Prosperity indicator

High correlation with the human development index

The gross domestic product per capita is an indicator of the prosperity and quality of life of a country's population. The ranking correlation between GDP and the Human Development Index (HDI), which records life expectancy and education indicators in addition to income, is very high. There is a 0.8 correlation between the life expectancy and education indicators recorded in the HDI with real purchasing power per inhabitant. The living conditions in a country tend to be better, the greater the economic power of a country. Up to a gross domestic product per capita of around US $ 20,000, there is a strong correlation between the satisfaction of the population of different countries and their average income.

Decoupling of growth and quality of life?

Whether economic growth above a threshold is still helpful to improve the quality of life is controversial. As early as the 1970s, Fred Hirsch discussed the social limits of growth, Tibor Scitovsky criticized the stagnating satisfaction with increasing consumption as a joyless economy (joyless economy), and Richard Easterlin published on the Easterlin paradox , according to which the feeling of happiness does not increase further if the basic one human needs are met. According to this, at least in the industrialized countries there is only a slight correlation between economic growth and a feeling of happiness, because the relative income (i.e. the comparison to residents of the same country) has the greatest influence on the feeling of happiness. Wolfers and Stevenson contradicted this thesis in a 2008 article in which they compared data on happiness and income between rich and poor within a society, between poor and rich countries and intertemporally, and found only slight differences. In countries such as Japan or Europe, subjective satisfaction increased along with average per capita income. Also, the increase in happiness was greater when the income growth was greater. On the other hand, Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett , for example, again emphasized in their study The spirit level the central importance of unequal distribution of income and wealth for social problems .

Alternative indicators of prosperity

Therefore, the gross domestic product as the sole indicator of prosperity and growth as an appropriate political goal are questioned. It does not measure the distribution of income in a country (if a few rich become richer and many poor remain poor or even become poorer, the economy could still grow), nor the weighting of private consumption, housework, voluntary work, accessibility and quality of the Health and education, the crime rate, addictions, environmental pollution and their possible follow-up costs, etc. Therefore, a large number of alternative / supplementary indicators of prosperity have been developed, for example the W3 indicators of the study commission on growth, prosperity, quality of life in Germans, which met from 2011 to 2013 Bundestag . The United Nations uses the Human Development Index to measure qualitative growth. Here, not only the gross domestic product per capita, but also life expectancy and the duration of training are considered.

Growth criticism

some planetary limits are exceeded
Ecological limits

At least since the report The Limits to Growth to the Club of Rome has been discussed whether unlimited economic growth is possible and sensible. There are essentially two positions here. One position asserts the existence of fundamental ecological limits to growth. The natural resources ( raw materials and energy sources ) of the “ spaceship earth ” and the absorption capacity of the ecosystems (“ planetary limits ”) are limited and therefore a reduction in growth up to a stationary economy or even shrinkage is necessary. Quantitative growth is not possible in any case, but qualitative growth must also come to an end because the ecological burden and the consumption of raw materials cannot be sufficiently decoupled from economic activity. The social problems would therefore have to be solved differently than with economic growth. In some European countries in particular, a growth-critical movement has established itself as a social movement based on France .

Overcoming growth as a goal

The political focus on economic growth is sometimes called Fetish , Holy Grail , ideology or growth mania ( english growth mania called). The uncritically positive attitude towards growth and progress may a. traced back to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination , which declares economic success as the path to God's love. In the early modern economic theory of mercantilism , economic growth was recognized as an expression of political power: technology and trade were promoted and gained social respect. In the subsequent epoch of industrialization , a modern ideology emerged: unlimited economic growth as the central goal of all economic policy . Instead, a political reorientation towards more frugality is called for.

Overcoming the growth constraints of modern societies

The thesis of forced growth is that modern societies can only be stabilized with economic growth. The alternative to growth is not stable stationary economy , but uncontrolled shrinkage or an unacceptable rise in unemployment. It is therefore investigated how these constraints can be overcome. The exact implementation is controversial within the scientific discussion of growth criticism and the growth-critical movement - it ranges from conservative cultural criticism to social reform and ecological left-wing liberalism , demands for individual frugality ( sufficiency ) and self-sufficiency to sharp criticism of capitalism .

Growth theory

The growth theory is the branch of economics that deals with the explanation of the causes of economic growth and the per capita income. For this purpose, the different economic schools have developed different mathematical models and concepts. The most famous early models include the Keynesian Harrod-Domar model published in 1939 and 1946 , the neoclassical Solow-Swan model published in 1956 and the neoclassical Ramsey-Cass-Koopmans model established in 1965 , the basic ideas of which were published in 1928. Endogenous growth models such as the AK model have been developed since the mid-1980s .

Production factors and growth accounting

Neoclassical growth theory explains economic growth from the increase in production factors - the calculation of the contribution of each factor to growth is called growth accounting. The classical economics looked at the factors of production floor , labor and capital . Since the beginning of the 20th century, land has mostly been counted as capital and only two production factors have been assumed. Capital comprises the produced assets that are used in production (e.g. machines, office buildings or human capital ). Capital can be accumulated as a capital stock and increase the production potential . The actual contribution of the individual production factors to growth depends on the production elasticity. The growth shares that cannot be ascribed to the increase in production factors are referred to as total factor productivity and are mostly ascribed to technical progress . Other economists emphasize the importance of nature and raw materials.

The countries that achieved higher average levels of productivity in 1960–1965 also had the highest per capita income in 1990. Increasing productivity became the explicit goal of economic policy . The US, France, Germany, Japan and the UK - five of the richest countries - spend 2 to 3 percent of their GDP on research and development. In this way, they increase their chances of developing new, better products and thereby increasing the productivity of their employees.

Institutional framework

A country comparison of post-war growth shows that the political, institutional and social framework has a very large influence on longer-term economic growth. Economists like Douglass North emphasize that the historical development of various economies is heavily dependent on institutions. This institutional framework influences the savings and investment rate (capital). When comparing economies, the following questions arise:

  • Why are workers in some countries better qualified than in others?
  • Why are savings rates and investments higher in some countries than in others?
  • Why do some countries use resources more carefully?
  • Why is the innovation rate higher in some countries?
  • Why is productivity higher in some countries?

In considering colonial history, there is a great deal of empirical evidence suggesting the paramount importance of robust property rights. The restriction of access by politicians and social elites to property and a credible protection against expropriation correlate with a significantly higher rate of savings and investment as well as significantly higher economic growth. Long-term institutional framework conditions such as legal security (independent and effective courts or administration, prevention of corruption and money laundering , contractual and register security), public security and research have also proven to be decisive . The main programmatic priorities for economic growth and positive long-term development of communities are currency and financial stability, a solid legal framework (safeguarding property rights, contract and register security, protection of creditors), prudent deregulation and liberalization of the financial sector, liberalization of capital movements with exchange rate flexibility, robust banks, targeted financial policy (securities markets , government debt management), stable and efficient payment and settlement systems and the implementation of standards and codes. Political stability, legal certainty and the protection of intellectual property are perceived internationally as the decisive framework conditions for corporate growth, especially in innovative companies, e-business, IT companies and related start-up companies . According to UNESCO and the UN , the protection of cultural property and the preservation of the growing cultural diversity are also fundamentally necessary for sustainable economic growth .

Economic growth from a systems theory point of view

Industrial agricultural systems, which are operated with enormous effort, are suitable for researching economic growth from a system-theoretical point of view

According to systems theory , the economy, as a functional structure made up of acting and reacting elements with processes running between them, is subject to certain regularities, as can be observed in natural systems . Systems theorists such as Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann have dealt with transferring this knowledge to economic systems.

Niklas Luhmann sees a wishful thinking in economic growth , which the " invisible hand " used as early as the 18th century as a guarantee of progress to "invisibilize" the scarcity paradox: According to Luhmann, economy does not exist so that people have access to scarce goods, but it creates itself from itself by continuously creating and satisfying needs that keep them going. Luhmann regards the necessity of economic growth as a “condition for social stability ” as a suggestion for politicians and the public. The suggestion works, since "speculating with temporal asymmetry" is taking place here, i. That is, resources are used in the present that future generations will have to pay for in the future. If that is no longer possible, one has to deal with the external costs and ecological consequences . Economic growth, which foreseeably only takes place in the short term and which will unduly reduce the life resources of the following generations, could impair social stability. This could already lead to major generational conflicts in the present and to existential problems in the future.

The phenomenon of exponential economic growth is striking in this context. Frederic Vester has dealt with it intensively. First he defined “normal growth” in living systems: it always only takes place in a short phase that is limited by negative feedback mechanisms . In the subsequent, steady state, restructuring could take place before renewed growth is possible without damaging consequences for the system. Vester uses examples to show that this behavior also applies to complex systems in which human action is an essential factor, e.g. B. for land use systems. If, however, the aforementioned growth regulation is overridden by human error, further exponential growth can be forced, but if further development is unchecked, this could abruptly break off and lead to the collapse of the system. Any intervention on a component can trigger a wide range of effects that are not intended and difficult to foresee and lead to irreversible developments. This is often the case when too high demands and too abrupt measures to increase yield are placed on modern agricultural systems at the same time . Traditional agricultural systems , on the other hand, have developed continuously over long periods of time. Since their operators are concerned about their ability to survive, they should be able to deal with “natural growth” in a system-appropriate manner.

See also


  • Douglas E. Booth: Hooked on Growth. 2004, ISBN 0-7425-2718-2 .
  • Herman E. Daly: Beyond Growth - The Economics of Sustainable Development. 1997, ISBN 0-8070-4709-0 .
  • Elhanan Helpman : The Mystery of Economic Growth. 2004, ISBN 0-674-01572-X .
  • Mats Larsson: The Limits of Business Development and Economic Growth. 2005, ISBN 1-4039-4239-0 .
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  • Robert J. Barro: Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1997.
  • Robert J. Barro, Xavier Sala-i-Martin: Economic Growth. 2nd Edition. 2003.
  • Georg Erber, Harald Hagemann: Growth, Structural Change, and Employment. In: Klaus F. Zimmermann (Ed.): Frontiers of Economics. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York, 2002, pp. 269-310.
  • Duncan K. Foley: Growth and Distribution. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1999.
  • Oded Galor: From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory. Handbook of Economic Growth, Elsevier, 2005.
  • Roger Garrison: Time and Money. 1998.
  • Clive Hamilton: Growth Fetish . 2002.
  • Charles I. Jones: Introduction to Economic Growth. 2nd Edition. WW Norton & Company, New York, NY 2002, ISBN 0-393-97745-5 .
  • Israel Kirzner: Competition and Entrepreneurship. 1973.
  • Robert E. Lucas Jr .: The Industrial Revolution: Past and Future. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Annual Repor. 2003. online edition
  • Ludwig E. Mises: Human Action. 1949. (1998 reprint by the Mises Institute)
  • Joseph A. Schumpeter: The Theory of Economic Development. 1912. (1982 reprint, Transaction Publishers)
  • Joseph A. Schumpeter: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Harper Perennial, 1942.
  • David N. Weil: Economic Growth. 2nd Edition. Addison Wesley, 2008, ISBN 978-0-321-41662-9 .
  • Lars Weber: Demographic Change and Economic Growth - Simulation on Growth Models. Physica, 2010, ISBN 978-3-7908-2589-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Economic growth  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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