Last week we looked at the world’s demographic destiny for the coming decades. I imagine most readers perused the information and said, “Yes, we already know the world’s population is getting older. Everybody keeps saying demographics are important, but I’d like to know how slowly changing demographics actually affect the economy here and now.
Today we are going to explore how demographic change impacts growth. (We will use lots of charts and graphs, but the text of the letter is actually shorter than usual. The whole picture is worth 1000 words thing.)
Every politician and economist wants to see the United States – and, I should point out, Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world – return to 3%-plus growth. Given that GDP in the first quarter turned out to be just 0.6% and that growth has sputtered along at less than 1% for the last six months, even the 2% growth that we’ve been averaging for the last five years sounds good now. In my just-concluded series, a letter to the next president on the economic situation he or she will face, I laid out my own plan to reinvigorate growth. But I have to admit that plan does face a strong headwind called fundamental economic reality.
Growth in GDP has only two basic components: growth in productivity and growth in the size of the workforce.
That’s it: there are two and only two ways you can grow an economy. You can either increase the (working-age) population or increase productivity. There is no magic fairy dust you can sprinkle on an economy to make it grow. To increase GDP you have to actually produce more. That's why it's called gross domestic product.
The Greek letter delta (Δ) is the symbol for change. So the change in GDP is written as
ΔGDP = ΔPopulation + ΔProductivity
- Improved nutrition and healthcare enable people to live longer.
- Fertility rates are falling toward replacement rate or even lower.