What Drives Long Run Economic Growth?

It’s Friday in the summertime, so I thought I would do something a little light and easy today.

I was reading an article by a St. Louis Federal Reserve economist titled ‘What Drives Long-Run Economic Growth?

I’ve been writing about short-term economic issues like the impact of the cold weather on the first quarter and when the Fed might raise interest rates (June, September or January?), so the long-run idea was appealing.

The author, YiLi Chien, says that both theoretically and empirically, it’s been shown that technological progress is the main driver of long run growth.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing that I think of is driverless cars and using my iPhone to pay for a sandwich at Subway without reaching for my credit card.

While those things are cool and may drive economic growth, I was reminded of an article I saw in the Atlantic a few years ago.  It’s a list of the 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel.

Every single item on the list really was a breakthrough that changed lives.

Here’s their Top 10:

  1. The printing press, 1430s
  2. Electricity, late 19th century
  3. Penicillin, 1928
  4. Semiconductor electronics, mid-20th century
  5. Optical lenses, 13th century
  6. Paper, second century
  7. internal combustion engine, late 19th century
  8. Vaccination, 1796
  9. The internet, 1960s
  10. The steam engine, 1712

Of course, we could debate about whether the steam engine is really ‘greater’ than sanitation systems (no. 12), refrigeration (No. 13) or my personal favorite: air conditioning (no. 44).

Take a look at the list and see how your favorite innovations rank.  I look at this list and, as an optimist, think the future is bright and  long-run growth will come back (eventually) based on the inventions that haven’t happened yet.