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Thermodynamics of long-run economic innovation and growth

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  • Timothy J. Garrett

Abstract

This article derives prognostic expressions for the evolution of globally aggregated economic wealth, productivity, inflation, technological change, innovation and growth. The approach is to treat civilization as an open, non-equilibrium thermodynamic system that dissipates energy and diffuses matter in order to sustain existing circulations and to further its material growth. Appealing to a prior result that established a fixed relationship between a very general representation of global economic wealth and rates of global primary energy consumption, physically derived expressions for economic quantities follow. The analysis suggests that wealth can be expressed in terms of the length density of civilization's networks and the availability of energy resources. Rates of return on wealth are accelerated by energy reserve discovery, improvements to human and infrastructure longevity, and a more common culture, or a lowering of the amount of energy required to diffuse raw materials into civilization's bulk. According to a logistic equation, rates of return are slowed by past growth, and if rates of return approach zero, such "slowing down" makes civilization fragile with respect to externally imposed network decay. If past technological change has been especially rapid, then civilization is particularly vulnerable to newly unfavorable conditions that might force a switch into a mode of accelerating collapse.

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  • Timothy J. Garrett, 2013. "Thermodynamics of long-run economic innovation and growth," Papers 1306.3554, arXiv.org.
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:1306.3554
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    3. Smil, Vaclav, 2006. "Technical Innovations and Their Consequences," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195168754.
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    8. Warr, Benjamin & Ayres, Robert, 2006. "REXS: A forecasting model for assessing the impact of natural resource consumption and technological change on economic growth," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 329-378, September.
    9. Sorrell, Steve & Speirs, Jamie & Bentley, Roger & Brandt, Adam & Miller, Richard, 2010. "Global oil depletion: A review of the evidence," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(9), pages 5290-5295, September.
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    11. Paul M. Romer, 1994. "The Origins of Endogenous Growth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 3-22, Winter.
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