US Grows Most ’70-’10

What nation increased its total economic consumption most from 1970 to 2010? If you’ve been reading too much about a US “great stagnation” in that period, the answer might surprise you — the US wins by a long shot. The top thirty gains:

United States 583, Japan 183, China 103, United Kingdom 73, Germany 63, France 53, India 47, Brazil 47, Italy 39, Canada 37, Mexico 37, Spain 28, Indonesia 14, Netherlands 11, Greece 9, South Africa 8, Thailand 8, Switzerland 8, Belgium 8, Austria 7, Colombia 7, Sweden 7, Philippines 7, Norway 7, Malaysia 7, Portugal 6, Chile 6, Finland 5, Ireland 5, Denmark 4. (source)

Units are tens of billions of dollars per year. All of Western Europe adds up to 285. Since total world change was ~1460, the US had ~40% of all consumption growth.

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  • This surprised me until I realized this was just about absolute units.

  • Blake Riley

    The US still comes out strongly ahead in per-capita consumption increases. Absolute numbers are fairly useless, although the comparison with western Europe as a whole is striking: twice the growth with 3/4ths the population.

  • ND

    Measured in absolute units, isn’t it obvious that the US will be on top? And if you included the Galactic Federation of Planets, it would no doubt be #1 simply because it would be so large. That’s not much consolation to the individuals who live in it, if the % change in median income hasn’t changed much, which is the more meaningful measure…

  • Anonymous

    In terms of US prosperity, this seems to be a good measure. But in terms of US production (and thus the extent to which they are a Great Power), it isn’t that useful.

  • jeff

    This is why nobody trusts economists. GDP has become a shitty measure of prosperity.

    • This is why nobody trusts economists. GDP has become a shitty measure of prosperity.



      Not sure if you mean that GDP has become a bad measure, and the total consumption measure seen in the Washington Post report is good, or if they are both bad. I’m of the mind that they are both bad.

      I’d say that any measure of the US economy which attributes “goodness” to deficit-financed, soul-less consumption of modern consumer goods with no significant steps taken towards an economics of sustainability is poisonous econometric Kool-Aid, or akin to drinking your friends’ bathwater, and talking about how wonderful it tastes and how healthy it is for you.

      We are headed for a major economic crash or collapse, and not just in the financial economy. The overconsumption of the very resources which sustain us, again financed largely by debt until the day the credit card corporation cuts us off, is one of the most Titanic acts of collective insanity I can imagine.

      I use the term Titanic doubly. We need to get off this sinking ship and stop pretending it’s a wonderful economy.

  • Frank Howland

    For economic growth one ought to use growth in GDP, not growth in consumption, though these don’t necessarily measure economic welfare well. Contrary to Jeff, consumption is not the same as GDP, and if one takes a longer view it isn’t clear that prosperity is accurately measured by current consumption. (Lots of people lived in big houses in the U.S. in 2009 but were in the process of being forced out.) Any attempt to measure economic welfare should include spectacular increases in health (much greater in China and the rest of the developing world than in the United States) and environmental conditions (perhaps the reverse).

  • Byron

    Consumption is a poor measure as well because of much the US’s recent consumption has been debt-driven, not production-driven.

    We’ve pulled forward future demand, which will result in a corresponding decrease in consumption (apparently starting now) as we pay off that debt.

    Eg, we spent future demand to stack the deck of this survey, so to speak.

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  • Patrick L

    Man, it’s a good thing this consumption growth isn’t coming out of savings and less leisure time. Otherwise it’d tell a completely different and sad story.

    Check your causal arrows Robin.

  • Peter B. Reiner

    Isn’t this rampant consumption without concordant production the problem?

  • Vaniver

    I thought the “Great Stagnation” referred to mostly stagnant real wages for the lower ~95% of the population, and the increased effort necessary (women entering the workforce, then mass borrowing) necessary to tread water with regards to consumption.

    That is, this data generated no surprise for me, despite me taking “Great Stagnation” claims seriously.

  • Two major arguments with this:

    1. A 40 year period has little to do with the problems of the past several years. This includes the 1980s and 1990s when almost 40 million net jobs were added in the U.S.

    2. Consumption growth from 2000-07 was strongly aided by the credit bubble, as the past 4 years have shown, it was not sustainable.

    We are very much in a Great Stagnation. Look at this data and decide for yourself

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  • Mark M

    To be fair, the increase in consumption consists primarily of products made overseas and bought on credit.

    Source: I made it up, but doesn’t seem too far-fetched and shows how much the one provided statistic about consumption needs some context to have any meaning.

  • Arthur B.

    Using the table one can compute the arguably more useful relative change. This gives the following ranking. China is unsurprisingly on top.

    2009 1970-2009 
    China $812 $737 982.7%
    Indonesia $625 $502 408.1%
    Tunisia $1,830 $1,379 305.8%
    Malaysia $2,626 $1,962 295.5%
    Thailand $1,391 $1,008 263.2%
    Dominican Republic $3,268 $2,282 231.4%
    Lesotho $642 $436 211.7%
    India $459 $292 174.9%
    Greece $10,947 $6,906 170.9%
    Malta $7,213 $4,547 170.6%
    Ireland $13,580 $8,475 166.0%
    Portugal $7,891 $4,901 163.9%
    Brazil $2,984 $1,816 155.5%
    Norway $20,096 $12,211 154.9%
    Chile $4,324 $2,622 154.1%
    United Kingdom $18,354 $11,027 150.5%
    Finland $14,286 $8,317 139.3%
    Japan $22,173 $12,771 135.8%
    Luxembourg $20,238 $11,446 130.2%
    United States $26,783 $14,906 125.5%
    Austria $14,112 $7,828 124.6%
    Iceland $17,291 $9,475 121.2%
    Spain $9,190 $4,959 117.2%
    Canada $15,658 $8,268 111.9%
    Belgium $12,668 $6,621 109.5%
    Morocco $1,056 $551 109.1%
    Germany $14,103 $7,332 108.3%
    France $13,717 $7,100 107.3%
    Italy $11,326 $5,862 107.3%
    Mexico $4,260 $1,997 88.2%
    Costa Rica $3,268 $1,497 84.5%
    Colombia $2,066 $902 77.5%
    Uruguay $6,180 $2,690 77.1%
    Philippines $942 $407 76.1%
    Netherlands $12,341 $5,317 75.7%
    Paraguay $1,090 $463 73.8%
    Ecuador $1,133 $472 71.4%
    Sweden $15,391 $6,149 66.5%
    Denmark $15,636 $6,232 66.3%
    El Salvador $2,315 $921 66.1%
    Kenya $350 $137 64.3%
    Honduras $1,005 $361 56.1%
    South Africa $2,382 $844 54.9%
    New Zealand $9,250 $3,224 53.5%
    Switzerland $21,905 $7,413 51.2%
    Guatemala $1,587 $525 49.4%
    Algeria $785 $237 43.2%
    Gabon $1,533 $314 25.8%
    Senegal $442 $85 23.8%
    Bolivia $871 $159 22.3%
    Peru $2,019 $327 19.3%
    Bangladesh $374 ($52) -12.2%
    Nicaragua $808 ($222) -21.6%
    Madagascar $192 ($222) -53.6%

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