Global Prosperity

Learning Objectives: Understand the empirical evidence around economic growth and globalisation. 

Here is my Economics Mission Statement, March 2018.

Lecture handout: Global prosperity*

The incredible data visualisation used at the beginning of my lecture is from Gapminder. I strongly encourage you to visit their website and play around with the tools. In particular, try to create a chart showing GDP per capita against infant mortality and then see how the data has changed over time.

Group activity: Stoves Handout, May 2020

The increases in global income have been incredible. In Factfulness, Hans Rosling tells us that 100,000 years ago everyone was poor and most children didn’t survive long enough to become parents. 200 years ago, 85% of the world were still in extreme poverty. Today, most people live in middle-income countries, with living standards similar to Western Europe and North America in the 1950s. (p.38).

Some more detail can be found in “Rosling’s Charts“.

Higher incomes are important, they lead to:

  • Reduced population growth (poor communities have lots of children because many will die early, and they need a contribution to family income. As they get richer, the need for more extra children declines and parents focus on quality not quantity… based on current growth projections total global population is due to stabilise at ~11 bn people. As Rosling says, “Once parents see children survive, once the children are no longer needed for child labour, and once the women are educated and have information about and access to contraceptives, across cultures and religion both the men and the women instead start dreaming of having fewer, well-educated children” (p.91)
  • Greater concern for the environment
  • More resources for humanitarian assistance (e.g. for natural disasters or global pandemics)

In the lecture I argue that infant mortality figures are better proxies for living standards than life expectancy. As Hans Rosling argues, “this measure takes the temperature of the whole society” (p.20). This is because children are fragile, and you therefore require lots of good circumstances in order for children to routinely survive – it tells us about access to basic health care, the literacy of mothers, etc.

The lecture tried to show the link between economic growth and rising living standards for the general public. This is something that Dracula noticed when he encountered a “normal” modern house:

I’ve been a nobleman for 400 years. I’ve lived in castles and palaces among the richest people of any age. Never….never! Have I stood in greater luxury than surrounds me now. This is a chamber of marvels. There isn’t a king, or queen or emperor that I have ever known or eaten who would step into this room and ever agree to leave it again. I knew the future would bring wonders. I did not know it would make them ordinary.

Some great videos to watch that explore the themes from the lecture:

Lecture handout: Stagnation*

I provided some pessimistic views on transformative breakthroughs. But every now and then I notice the power of steady, incremental progress. For example:

Noah Smith has a nice Twitter thread on progress since 1970.


For more on Permissionless Innovation

A good, uplifting account of how creativity can result from not asking permission:

The importance of ideas:

These resources form part of my Managerial Economics course map. You can watch the full YouTube playlist here. This page ties into Chapter 12 of ‘Economics: A Complete Guide for Business‘.


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