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3D Graphics Show Rise in Human Prosperity, Refute Malthus

There is ample evidence, both from Rosling’s statistics and from observation, that the correlation between economic growth, population growth and food supply is vastly different than Malthus and the Hunger Games predict

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At a time when world headlines are darkest and angst-ridden, we decided to share one bright spot in the greater scheme of things, as illuminated in this BBC video by famed Swiss statistician Hans Rosling. As presented by Rosling, statistics contradict the premise of one of economics’ gloomiest doom-sayers, Thomas Malthus. Malthus, an early-19th century British scholar of political economy and demographics, proposed that improvements in standards of living would encourage the human population to grow, only to be wiped out by disease or famine, given that the earth’s resources are finite. But as Rosling’s numbers demonstrate, Malthus’ doomsday premise fails to account for the beneficent effects of technological and social advancements. How we organize society greatly determines the public welfare.

Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor, academic, statistician and public speaker, professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute and co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation, according to Wikipedia.

Not only are Rosling’s statistics animated, but so is Rosling. His enthusiasm for the topic and the technology is both contagious and entertaining.  As Rosling says,

Having the data is not enough; I have to show it in ways that people both enjoy and understand.

Rosling’s animated graph starts in 1810, showing how almost all the countries of the world were stuck in the bottom left quadrant—where the people of the world are both poor and sick. As the animation begins, the graph evolves to show the impact of the Industrial Revolution, during which countries in Europe and elsewhere begin to emerge from the poor and sick quadrant and move up and to the right, toward health and wealth.

But the colonized countries in Asia and Africa are stuck down there, and eventually the Western countries get healthier and healthier.

As the graph continues to animate, the catastrophic effect of World War I and the Spanish Flu Epidemic are depicted. Rosling continues to show how Western countries continued to thrive, despite the challenges brought about by planners such as the Great Depression and a second World War, moving upward and to the right on the 3D graph.

By 1948, most Western countries as well as Japan were either enjoying prosperity or well on their way to doing so. The colonized countries, however, remained mired in the sick and poor quadrant. As these colonized countries gained back their independence, they could begin the upward climb toward health and wealth. By the 1970s Asian and South American countries such as Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and Argentina became the new emerging economies.

What is particularly interesting about Rosling’s animated graph is the way that the statistical picture contradicts Malthus’ premise. In an earlier post we explained Malthus’ theory like this:

… real economic growth was a temporary phenomenon—any economic growth would lead to prosperity and population growth. But population growth would quickly outrun the increases in food supply, and people would starve, reducing economic activity back to its original level.

Today the consensus is that Malthus did not or was unable to foresee the impact that technology would have on the ability of humans to increase production. There is ample evidence, both from Rosling’s statistics and from observation, that the correlation between economic growth, population growth and food supply is vastly different than Malthus predicted.

But Malthus was entirely wrong in his prediction of the necessity of hunger games, but one could concede that certain natural resource are strained today. We simply have to look at the ongoing depletion of fossil fuels, food stocks and clean water to realize that there is still an element of reality to Malthus’ theory. The point is that what we use and how we use it changes by necessity in way never imagined.

Brent Harmes, president of GoldSilver, often reminds of the time when humans were very worried about peak oil—peak whale oil. And indeed for some time whale supply showed serious pressure relative to demand for energy.

The question remaining is whether or not the human race can apply and develop the technology necessary to reverse our negative impact on the environment and gain some serious efficiency from our resources. As we have reported in earlier Wealth Cycles articles (I Have A Dream: Green Nuclear Energy; New Energy Technology Could Be ‘Next Big Thing’; Energy and the Economic Future) we believe the answer, in the long run, is yes.