Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Entertaining Malthus: Bread, Circuses and Economic Growth"

At first glance I thought this paper a parody but further examination showed it to raise some interesting ideas.
Via the Washington Center for Equitable Growth:

Lemin Wu et al.: Entertaining Malthus: Bread, Circuses and Economic Growth: “We augment a simple Malthusian model…
…by allowing agents to consume something besides food. Whereas food (in our case: bread) is both enjoyable and necessary for survival, the other good, circuses, is pure entertainment: it has absolutely no impact on survival, but does enhance the quality of life. With this very simple modification, we show that, whereas food supply may remain at subsistence, technological change will have a great impact on the consumption of everything else. Most strikingly, though the population remains bound by a Malthusian constraint, sustained improvements to living standards can no longer be ruled out. We also argue that our model better fits the known historical facts–the widely-held belief that growth prior to the Industrial Revolution was flat is based largely on historical measures of food production. Although food supply throughout history may have been (and for most individuals still is) at or near subsistence levels technological advancements have brought greater convenience and comfort to wealthy and poor alike, a possibility that Malthus himself conceded in his later (and often ignored) work. Therefore, our model not only describes historical growth patterns and demographic transitions better than traditional ‘Malthusian’ models, but is also more in line with Malthus’ later thinking.
(25 page PDF)