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From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory

In: Handbook of Economic Growth

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  • Galor, Oded

Abstract

The transition from stagnation to growth and the associated phenomenon of the great divergence have been the subject of an intensive research in the growth literature in recent years. The discrepancy between the predictions of exogenous and endogenous growth models and the process of development over most of human history, induced growth theorists to advance an alternative theory that would capture in a single unified framework the contemporary era of sustained economic growth, the epoch of Malthusian stagnation that had characterized most of the process of development, and the fundamental driving forces of the recent transition between these distinct regimes.The advancement of unified growth theory was fueled by the conviction that the understanding of the contemporary growth process would be limited and distorted unless growth theory would be based on micro-foundations that would reflect the qualitative aspects of the growth process in its entirety. In particular, the hurdles faced by less developed economies in reaching a state of sustained economic growth would remain obscured unless the origin of the transition of the currently developed economies into a state of sustained economic growth would be identified, and its implications would be modified to account for the additional economic forces faced by less developed economies in an interdependent world.Unified growth theory suggests that the transition from stagnation to growth is an inevitable outcome of the process of development. The inherent Malthusian interaction between the level of technology and the size and the composition of the population accelerated the pace of technological progress, and ultimately raised the importance of human capital in the production process. The rise in the demand for human capital in the second phase of industrialization, and its impact on the formation of human capital as well as on the onset of the demographic transition, brought about significant technological advancements along with a reduction in fertility rates and population growth, enabling economies to convert a larger share of the fruits of factor accumulation and technological progress into growth of income per capita, and paving the way for the emergence of sustained economic growth.Variations in the timing of the transition from stagnation to growth and thus in economic performance across countries reflect initial differences in geographical factors and historical accidents and their manifestation in variations in institutional, social, cultural, and political factors. In particular, once a technologically driven demand for human capital emerged in the second phase of industrialization, the prevalence of human capital promoting institutions determined the extensiveness of human capital formation, the timing of the demographic transition, and the pace of the transition from stagnation to growth.

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This chapter was published in:

  • Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), 2005. "Handbook of Economic Growth," Handbook of Economic Growth, Elsevier, Elsevier, edition 1, volume 1, number 1.
    This item is provided by Elsevier in its series Handbook of Economic Growth with number 1-04.

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