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In the last 200 years, according to economist Deirdre McCloskey, per capita income in the capitalist countries has grown from $1-3 per person per day to over $100 per person per day, in real dollars. There has been nothing like it, ever.

For more, see here, here and here.

The Great Enrichment


This page shows the trend of per-capita daily income in the United States since 1800.

The Story of the Great Enrichment

Chart E.01: US Per Capita Income Since 1800

Chart E.02: US Per Capita Income in Log Scale

Back in 1800, the per capita income per day in the United States was just over $4 per person per day. In 2009 dollars. That includes everyone, workers, housewives, babies, old folks. By 2020, using projected population and GDP forecasts, the daily per-capita income should hit $150 per person per day. So in 220 years, the real income of the average person in the United States will be over 37 times higher than back in 1800.

Notice the most notable notches in the curve in Fig E.01. They occur at the Great Depression in the 1930s and the Great Recession in 2009-2010.

But the exponential curve in Fig E.01 does not give us the growth rate. To do that we need a logarithmic curve. In a log curve, a constant growth rate in per capita income would appear as a straight line. You can see that in the log chart in Fig E.02 the growth rate starts out pretty low, then starts a solid and consistent growth rate in the 1840s that lasts until the Crash of 1907. Then per-capita growth slows up until after the Great Depression and World War II. Then from 1950 to 2008 growth in per-capita income is pretty solid and consistent. The slow growth since the Great Recession is pretty clear. We may hope that it resumes its upward trend.

You can compare the US experience of the Great Enrichment with the rather similar experience in Great Britain here.

The Global Great Enrichment

Chart E.03: Global Per Capita Income in Log Scale

Chart E.03 shows the US Great Enrichment against the other great nations of the world. You can see that in the 1820s countries like Germany, Russia, India, China, and Japan were essentially agricultural with an income of about $600 per capita per year in 1990 dollars. But each of these nations eventually began a takeoff into Enrichment. Notice the dips; each of these represents an episode of unimaginable human misery.

Data from: Bolt, jutta, Marcel Timmer and Jan Luiten van Zanden (2014), “GDP per capita since 1820”, in Jan Luiten van Zanden, et al. (eds.), How Was Life?: Global Well-being since 1820, OECD Publishing. link

But What Does It Mean?

The great question of the modern era is: what did it? How did human society transform itself so remarkably from the agricultural society that obtained for the last ten thousand years into the modern industrial and post-industrial world of today? There are, of course, many answers on offer. Here are just a few.

The answer from Deirdre McCloskey is “trade-tested betterment.” She means by this the process of middle-class people offering onto the market ideas, products, and services for improvement in physical and social living standards, and then abiding by the verdict of the market. McCloskey develops this idea in her “Bourgeois Era” books.

Another answer is “capital accumulation,” most recently argued in Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty. This represents modern prosperity as the result of people saving their income and thus accumulating capital.

Many people believe that it was the Enlightenment, a new birth of reason that flowered in the 17th century and replaced in human minds the superstitions of the Medieval Era.

In his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber famously argued that the Protestant ethic that emerged out of the Reformation encouraged people to engage in work in the secular world and accumulate wealth for investment.

In the narrative established by Marxism, the welfare of the working class depends on revolution to break the natural tendency of capitalism to lead to the immiseration and exploitation of the workers and the petit-bourgeoisie as market competition squeezes capitalist profits and thus the wages of the workers.

In the narrative of social democracy the welfare of the workers depends upon the rise of an enlightened elite of politicians and experts to enact beneficial social legislation to protect workers from the unhampered action of the labor market.

In the environmentalist narrative our modern prosperity rides on the back of a reckless use of non-renewable fossil fuels that has despoiled the Earth and risks a catastrophic anthropogenic global warming from a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In a technological narrative the Great Enrichment is the result of several technological revolutions, starting with steam power in the 19th century, the development of electric energy in the early 20th century, the internal combustion engine throughout the 20th century, and the electronics and information revolutions of the late 20th century.

Needless to say, there are many competing theories out there that attempt to explain our extraordinary age. It would probably be a good idea if we can come to some kind of loose agreement about What Did It.

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Federal Deficit, Receipts, Outlays Actuals for FY18

On October 15, 2018, the US Treasury reported in its Monthly Treasury Statement (and xls) for September that the federal deficit for FY 2018 ending September 30, 2018, was $779 billion. Here are the numbers, including total receipts, total outlays, and deficit compared with the numbers projected in the FY 2019 federal budget published in February 2018:

Federal Finances
FY 2018 Outcomes
Receipts $3,340$3,329
Deficit$833$779 now shows the new numbers for total FY 2018 total outlays and receipts on its Estimate vs. Actual page.

The Monthly Treasury Statement includes "Table 4: Receipts of the United States Government, September 2018 and Other Periods." This table of receipts by source is used for to post details of federal receipt actuals for FY 2018.

This FTS report on FY 18 actuals is a problem for because this site uses Historical Table 3.2--Outlays by Function and Subfunction from the Budget of the United States as its basic source for federal subfunction outlays. But the Monthly Treasury Statement only includes "Table 9. Summary of Receipts by Source, and Outlays by Function of the U.S. Government, September 2018 and Other Periods". Subfunction amounts don't get reported until the FY20 budget in February 2019. Until then estimates actual outlays by "subfunction" for FY 2018 by factoring subfunction budgeted amounts for FY18 by the ratio between relevant actual and budgeted "function" amounts where actual outlays by subfunction cannot be gleaned from the Monthly Treasury Statement.

Final detailed FY 2018 actuals will not appear on until the FY 2020 federal budget is published in February 2019 with the actual outlays for FY 2018 in Historical Table 3.2--Outlays by Function and Subfunction.

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