June 21, 2017

Physical Capital and Diminishing Returns

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 29 Mar 2016

Do you recall our question about Germany and Japan from our previous video?

How did they achieve record economic growth following World War II?

Today’s video will help answer that question. We’ll be digging into the K variable of our simplified Solow model: physical capital.

To help with our discussion, we’ll be exploring two specific concepts. The first is the iron logic of diminishing returns which states that, for each new input of capital, there is less and less output produced. Your first input of capital will likely be the most productive, because you’ll allocate this first unit to the most important, value-adding tasks.

The second concept we’ll cover is the marginal product of capital. This concept describes the output created by each new unit of invested capital.

Can you already see how these two forces of capital help answer our question about Germany and Japan?

For these two war-torn countries, the first few units of invested capital had a lot of bang for their buck. The first roads between destroyed cities, the first new steel mills, the first new businesses — these helped boost their growth rate tremendously.

Even more so, remember that Germany and Japan were growing from a low economic base after the war. It’s easy to grow a lot when the base is small. But all else being equal, you’d rather have a larger base, and grow slower.

Capital has some more nuances worth thinking about, which we’ll show in the next video. So get to watching, and in our next macroeconomics video, we’ll show you yet another problem surrounding physical capital.

June 19, 2017

Office Hours: The Solow Model

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 20 Apr 2016

In last week’s Principles of Macroeconomics video, you learned about the steady state level of capital and the Solow model of economic growth. Here are two of the practice questions from that video:

Country A has K=10,000 and produces GDP according to the following equation: GDP=5√K.
1) If the country devotes 25% of its GDP to making investment goods, how much is the country investing?
2) If 1% of all machines become worthless every year (they depreciate, in other words) in Country A, GDP is…?

June 4, 2017

Intro to the Solow Model of Economic Growth

Filed under: China, Economics, Germany, Japan — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 28 Mar 2016

Here’s a quick growth conundrum, to get you thinking.

Consider two countries at the close of World War II — Germany and Japan. At that point, they’ve both suffered heavy population losses. Both countries have had their infrastructure devastated. So logically, the losing countries should’ve been in a post-war economic quagmire.

So why wasn’t that the case at all?

Following WWII, Germany and Japan were growing twice, sometimes three times, the rate of the winning countries, such as the United States.

Similarly, think of this quandary: in past videos, we explained to you that one of the keys to economic growth is a country’s institutions. With that in mind, think of China’s growth rate. China’s been growing at a breakneck pace — reported at 7 to 10% per year.

On the other hand, countries like the United States, Canada, and France have been growing at about 2% per year. Aside from their advantages in physical and human capital, there’s no question that the institutions in these countries are better than those in China.

So, just as we said about Germany and Japan — why the growth?

To answer that, we turn to today’s video on the Solow model of economic growth.

The Solow model was named after Robert Solow, the 1987 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Among other things, the Solow model helps us understand the nuances and dynamics of growth. The model also lets us distinguish between two types of growth: catching up growth and cutting edge growth. As you’ll soon see, a country can grow much faster when it’s catching up, as opposed to when it’s already growing at the cutting edge.

That said, this video will allow you to see a simplified version of the model. It’ll describe growth as a function of a few specific variables: labor, education, physical capital, and ideas.

So watch this new installment, get your feet wet with the Solow model, and next time, we’ll drill down into one of its variables: physical capital.

Helpful links:
Puzzle of Growth: http://bit.ly/1T5yq18
Importance of Institutions: http://bit.ly/25kbzne
Rise and Fall of the Chinese Economy: http://bit.ly/1SfRpDL

June 1, 2017

QotD: Economics

Filed under: Economics, Education, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Science may be the noblest endeavor of the human mind, but I believe (though I cannot prove) that the most crippling and dangerous kind of ignorance in the modern West is ignorance of economics, the way markets work, and the ways non-market allocation mechanisms are doomed to fail. Such economic ignorance is toxic, because it leads to insane politics and the empowerment of those whose rhetoric is altruist but whose true agenda is coercive control.

Eric S. Raymond, “What Do You Believe That You Cannot Prove?”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-01-06.

May 26, 2017

Puzzle of Growth: Rich Countries and Poor Countries

Filed under: China, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Feb 2016

Throughout this section of the course, we’ve been trying to solve a complicated economic puzzle — why are some countries rich and others poor?

There are various factors at play, interacting in a dynamic, and changing environment. And the final answer to the puzzle differs depending on the perspective you’re looking from. In this video, you’ll examine different pieces of the wealth puzzle, and learn about how they fit.

The first piece of the puzzle, is about productivity.

You’ll learn how physical capital, human capital, technological knowledge, and entrepreneurs all fit together to spur higher productivity in a population. From this perspective, you’ll see economic growth as a function of a country’s factors of production. You’ll also learn what investments can be made to improve and increase these production factors.

Still, even that is too simplistic to explain everything.

So we’ll also introduce you to another piece of the puzzle: incentives.

In previous videos, you learned about the incentives presented by different economic, cultural, and political models. In this video, we’ll stay on that track, showing how different incentives produce different results.

As an example, you’ll learn why something as simple as agriculture isn’t nearly so simple at all. We’ll put you in the shoes of a hypothetical farmer, for a bit. In those shoes, you’ll see how incentives can mean the difference between getting to keep a whole bag of potatoes from your farm, or just a hundredth of a bag from a collective farm.

(Trust us, the potatoes explain a lot.)

Potatoes aside, you’re also going to see how different incentives shaped China’s economic landscape during the “Great Leap Forward” of the 1950s and 60s. With incentives as a lens, you’ll see why China’s supposed leap forward ended in starvation for tens of millions.

Hold on — incentives still aren’t the end of it. After all, incentives have to come from somewhere.

That “somewhere” is institutions.

As we showed you before, institutions dictate incentives. Things like property rights, cultural norms, honest governments, dependable laws, and political stability, all create incentives of different kinds. Remember our hypothetical farmer? Through that farmer, you’ll learn how different institutions affect all of us. You’ll see how institutions help dictate how hard a person works, and how likely he or she is to invest in the economy, beyond that work.

Then, once you understand the full effect of institutions, you’ll go beyond that, to the final piece of the wealth puzzle. And it’s the most mysterious piece, too.


Because the final piece of the puzzle is the amorphous combination of a country’s history, ideas, culture, geography, and even a little luck. These things aren’t as direct as the previous pieces, but they matter all the same.

You’ll see why the US constitution is the way it is, and you’ll learn about people like Adam Smith and John Locke, whose ideas helped inform it.

And if all this talk of pieces makes you think that the wealth puzzle is a complex one, you’d be right.

Because the truth is, the question of “what creates wealth?” really is complex. Even the puzzle pieces you’ll learn about don’t constitute every variable at play. And as we mentioned earlier, not only are the factors complex, but they’re also constantly changing as they bump against each other.

Luckily, while the quest to finish the wealth puzzle isn’t over, at least we have some of the pieces in hand.

So take the time to dive in and listen to this video and let us know if you have questions along the way. After that, we’ll soon head into a new section of the course: we’ll tackle the factors of production so we can further explore what leads to economic growth.

May 15, 2017

Geography and Economic Growth

Filed under: Africa, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 9 Feb 2016

If you look at the African continent, perhaps the first word to come to mind is “enormous.” And that’s true. You could fit most of the United States, China, India, and a lot of Europe, into Africa. But if you compare Africa to Europe, Europe has two to three times the length of coastline that Africa has.

But what does coastline length have to do with anything?

Well, coasts mean access to water.

As benign as water might seem, it’s a major driver of economic growth. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, argued that access to water reduced the cost of trade, and gave merchants access to larger markets. These larger markets incentivized specialization and innovation.

These twin processes ultimately spurred trade activity, and consequently, economic growth.

As an end result, civilization tended to grow wherever trade was easiest.

If you want proof of this, think of a few major cities.

Look at Istanbul, New York, Venice, Hong Kong, London, and similar areas. What do they all have in common? They all sit near a major coast or a major river. In contrast, look at some of the poorest areas in the world—places like Kampala, or Pointe-Noire. These places are all landlocked. Since goods are easier to transport over water than over land, trade in landlocked areas is more expensive.

And what happens when trade is more expensive?

It becomes harder to spark economic growth.

What this all means is economic growth is not only affected by a country’s rules and institutions, but by a country’s natural blessings, or natural hindrances, too. The effects of geography on growth cannot be discounted.

May 7, 2017

The Importance of Institutions

Filed under: Asia, Economics, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Feb 2016

In today’s video, we discuss a topic critical to understanding economic growth: the power of institutions.

To better shed light on this, we’re going to look at an example that’s both tragic and extreme.

In 1945, North and South Korea were divided, ending 35 years of Japanese colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. From that point, the two Koreas took dramatically different paths. North Korea went the way of communism, and South Korea chose a relatively capitalistic, free market economy.

Now — what were the results of those choices?

In the ensuing decades after 1945, South Korea became a major car producer and exporter. The country also became a hub for music (any K-pop fans out there?), film, and consumer products. In stark contrast, North Korea’s totalitarian path resulted in episodes of famine and starvation for its people.

In the end, South Korea became a thriving market economy, with the living standards of a developed country. North Korea on the other hand, essentially became a militarized state, where people lived in fear.

Why such an extreme divergence?

It all comes down to institutions.

When economists talk about institutions, they mean things like laws and regulations, such as property rights, dependable courts and political stability. Institutions also include cultural norms, such as the ones surrounding honesty, trust, and cooperation.

To put it another way, institutions guide a country’s choices — which paths to follow, which actions to take, which signals to listen to, and which ones to ignore.

More importantly, institutions define the incentives that affect all of our lives.

Going back to our example, in the years after 1945, North and South Korea took dramatically different institutional paths.

In South Korea, the institutions of capitalism and democracy, promoted cooperation and honest commercial dealing. People were incentivized to produce goods and services to meet market demand. Businesses that did not meet demand were allowed to go bankrupt, allowing the re-allocation of capital towards more valuable uses.

Against that grain, North Korea’s institutions produced starkly different incentives. The totalitarian regime meant that the economy was centrally planned and directed. Most entrepreneurs didn’t have the freedom to keep their own profits, resulting in few incentives to do business. Farmers also didn’t have enough incentive to grow sufficient food to feed the population. This was due in part to price controls, and a lack of property rights.

As for capital, it was allocated by the state, mostly towards political and military uses. Instead of going towards science, or education, or industrial advancement, North Korea’s capital went mostly towards outfitting its army, and making sure that the ruling party remained unopposed.

And now, look at how different the two countries are as a result of those differing institutions.

When it comes to economic growth, institutions are critically important. A country’s institutions can have huge effects on long-term growth and prosperity. Good institutions can help turn a country into a growth miracle. Bad institutions can doom a country to economic disaster.

The key point remains: institutions are important.

They represent the choices that a country makes, and as the Korean peninsula shows you, choices on this scale can have staggering effects on a nation’s present, and future.

April 24, 2017

Growth Miracles and Growth Disasters

Filed under: Economics, Japan — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 Jan 2016

In previous videos, you learned two things.

First, that there can be large disparities in economic wealth among different countries. And second, you learned that one key factor drives that disparity: growth rate. As we said, it changes everything. But just how transformative is a country’s growth rate?

Take Argentina, for example.

In 1950, the Argentine standard of living was similar to that of many Western European countries. Up until 1965, Argentina’s per capita income was ahead of many of its neighbors.

On the other hand, Japan in 1950 was on the other end of the spectrum. Japan had been ravaged by war and was only just beginning to find its economic footing again. At that time, Japan’s standard of living was roughly the same as that of Mexico.

It was quite poor, compared to the Argentina of the same era.

But look at what’s happened in the past 65 years.

Japan today is one of the world’s most prosperous countries. Since 1950, it has managed to double its living standards about every eight years. Argentina, on the other hand, has stagnated. Once, Argentina had double the standard of living of Japan. But Japan now doubles them today, with a standard of living 10 times higher than the one it had in 1950.

In economic terms, Japan is what we would call a growth miracle. It’s in the same class as other growth success stories, like South Korea and China which have experienced the “hockey stick” of prosperity. (India seems like it may have started on this path as well.)

These countries are proof of one thing: with the right factors, a poor country can not only grow, but it can do so quickly. It can catch up with developed countries at an astonishing rate.

What took the United States two centuries of steady growth can now be achieved by other countries in about one-fifth the time. Catch-up can happen in 40 years — about the span of a generation or two.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, while growth can skyrocket in some countries, growth isn’t guaranteed at all.

Argentina is an example of this. It grew well for a time, and then it stalled. Even worse than Argentina, are countries like Niger, and Chad, which are the very worst of growth disasters. Not only are these countries in extreme poverty, but they also have little to no growth. More than that, these countries have never experienced substantial growth in the past.

But why does that all matter?

It matters because growth isn’t just about numbers. It’s not just about more goods and services. When a country grows, its citizens often end up with longer, healthier, and happier lives. Conversely, the countries that are growth disasters have citizens in poverty, with shorter and less happier lives.

As bleak as this seems, it’s the plain truth: while growth miracles are possible, growth disasters are, too.

Which leaves us with another question: what causes either state?

What leads to growth, prosperity, health, and happiness? And then, what leads to the opposite situation?

We’re excited to share the answer, but that’s a topic for future videos.

For now, check out this video to get up to speed on growth miracles and growth disasters.

April 17, 2017

Office Hours: Rule of 70

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 23 Feb 2016

One of the of the practice questions from our “Growth Rates Are Crucial” video asks you to compare real GDP per capita for two countries that start at the same place, but grow at different rates. It’s a little tricky:

Suppose two countries start with the same real GDP per capita, but country A is growing at 2% per year and country B is growing at 3% per year. After 140 years, country B will have a real GDP per capita that is roughly ________ times higher than country A. (Hint- you may want to review the “Rule of 70” to answer this question.)

We asked our Instructional Designer, Mary Clare Peate, to hold virtual “office hours” to guide you through how to solve this problem. Join her as she discusses your questions!

April 7, 2017

Growth Rates Are Crucial

Filed under: Economics, History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 12 Jan 2016

In the first video in this section on The Wealth of Nations and Economic Growth, you learned a basic fact of economic wealth — that countries can vary widely in standard of living. Specifically, you learned how variations in real GDP per capita can set countries leagues apart from one another.

Today, we’ll continue on that road of differences, and ask yet another question.

How can we explain wealth disparities between countries?

The answer? Growth rates.

And in this video, you’ll learn all about the ins-and-outs of measuring growth rates.

For one, you’ll learn how to visualize growth properly — examining growth in real GDP per capita on a ratio scale.

Then, here comes the fun part: you’ll also take a dive into the growth of the US economy over time. It’s a little bit like time travel. You’ll transport yourself to different periods in the country’s economic history: 1845, 1880, the Roaring Twenties, and much more.

As you transport yourself to those times, you’ll also see how the economies of other countries stack up in comparison. You’ll see why the Indian economy now is like a trip back to the US of 1880. You’ll see why China today is like the America of the Jazz Age. (You’ll even see why living in Italy today is related to a time when Atari was popular in the US!)

In keeping with our theme, though, we won’t just offer you a trip through ages past.

Because by the end of this video, you’ll also have the answer to one vital question: if the US had grown at an even higher rate, where would we be by now?

The magnitude of the answer will surprise you, we’re sure.

But then, that surprise is in the video. So, go on and watch, and we’ll see you on the other side.

March 20, 2017

Basic Facts of Wealth

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Jan 2016

We know that there are rich countries, poor countries, and countries somewhere in between. Economically speaking, Japan isn’t Denmark. Denmark isn’t Madagascar, and Madagascar isn’t Argentina. These countries are all different.

But how different are they?

That question is answered through real GDP per capita—a country’s gross domestic product, divided by its population.

In previous videos, we used real GDP per capita as a quick measure for a country’s standard of living. But real GDP per capita also measures an average citizen’s command over goods and services. It can be a handy benchmark for how much an average person can buy in a year — that is, his or her purchasing power. And across different countries, purchasing power isn’t the same.

Here comes that word again: it’s different.

How different? That’s another question this video will answer.

In this section of Marginal Revolution University’s course on Principles of Macroeconomics, you’ll find out just how staggering the economic differences are for three countries — the Central African Republic, Mexico, and the United States.

You’ll see why variations in real GDP per capita can be 10 times, 50 times, or sometimes a hundred times as different between one country and another. You’ll also learn why the countries we traditionally lump together as rich, or poor, might sometimes be in leagues all their own.

The whole point of this? We can learn a lot about a country’s wealth and standard of living by looking at real GDP per capita.

But before we give too much away, check out this video — the first in our section on The Wealth of Nations and Economic Growth.

March 5, 2017

Splitting GDP

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 21 Nov 2015

In the last three videos, you learned the basics of GDP: how to compute it, and how to account for inflation and population increases. You also learned how real GDP per capita is useful as a quick measure for standard of living.

This time round, we’ll get into specifics on how GDP is analyzed and used to study a country’s economy. You’ll learn two approaches for analysis: national spending and factor income.

You’ll see GDP from both sides of the ledger: the spending and the receiving side.

With the national spending approach, you’ll see how gross domestic product is split into three categories: consumption goods bought by the public, investment goods bought by the public, and government purchases.

You’ll also learn how to avoid double counting in GDP calculation, by understanding how government purchases differ from government spending, in terms of GDP.

After that, you’ll learn the other approach for GDP splitting: factor income.

Here, you’ll view GDP as the total sum of employee compensation, rents, interest, and profit. You’ll understand how GDP looks from the other side — from the receiving end of the ledger, instead of the spending end.

Finally, you’ll pay a visit to FRED (the Federal Reserve Economic Data website) again.

FRED will help you understand how GDP and GDI (the name for GDP when you use the factor income approach) are used by economists in times of economic downturn.

So, buckle in again. It’s time to hit the last stop on our GDP journey.

February 27, 2017

Real GDP Per Capita and the Standard of Living

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 20 Nov 2015

They say what matters most in life are the things money can’t buy.

So far, we’ve been paying attention to a figure that’s intimately linked to the things money can buy. That figure is GDP, both nominal, and real. But before you write off GDP as strictly a measure of wealth, here’s something to think about.

Increases in real GDP per capita also correlate to improvements in those things money can’t buy.

Health. Happiness. Education.

What this means is, as real GDP per capita rises, a country also tends to get related benefits.

As the figure increases, people’s longevity tends to march upward along with it. Citizens tend to be better educated. Over time, growth in real GDP per capita also correlates to an increase in income for the country’s poorest citizens.

But before you think of GDP per capita as a panacea for measuring human progress, here’s a caveat.

GDP per capita, while useful, is not a perfect measure.

For example: GDP per capita is roughly the same in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Honduras. As such, you might think the three countries have about the same standard of living.

But, a much larger portion of Nigeria’s population lives on less than $2/day than the other two countries.

This isn’t a question of income, but of income distribution — a matter GDP per capita can’t fully address.
In a way, real GDP per capita is like a thermometer reading — it gives a quick look at temperature, but it doesn’t tell us everything.

It’s far from the end-all, be-all of measuring our state of well-being. Still, it’s worth understanding how GDP per capita correlates to many of the other things we care about: our health, our happiness, and our education.

So join us in this video, as we work to understand how GDP per capita helps us measure a country’s standard of living. As we said: it’s not a perfect measure, but it is a useful one.

February 19, 2017

Nominal vs. Real GDP

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 19 Nov 2015

“Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago? What about 40 years ago?”

These sorts of questions invite a different kind of query: what exactly do we mean, when we say “better off?” And more importantly, how do we know if we’re better off or not?

To those questions, there’s one figure that can shed at least a partial light: real GDP.

In the previous video, you learned about how to compute GDP. But what you learned to compute was a very particular kind: the nominal GDP, which isn’t adjusted for inflation, and doesn’t account for increases in the population.

A lack of these controls produces a kind of mirage.

For example, compare the US nominal GDP in 1950. It was roughly $320 billion. Pretty good, right? Now compare that with 2015’s nominal GDP: over $17 trillion.

That’s 55 times bigger than in 1950!

But wait. Prices have also increased since 1950. A loaf of bread, which used to cost a dime, now costs a couple dollars. Think back to how GDP is computed. Do you see how price increases impact GDP?

When prices go up, nominal GDP might go up, even if there hasn’t been any real growth in the production of goods and services. Not to mention, the US population has also increased since 1950.

As we said before: without proper controls in place, even if you know how to compute for nominal GDP, all you get is a mirage.

So, how do you calculate real GDP? That’s what you’ll learn today.

In this video, we’ll walk you through the factors that go into the computation of real GDP.

We’ll show you how to distinguish between nominal GDP, which can balloon via rising prices, and real GDP—a figure built on the production of either more goods and services, or more valuable kinds of them. This way, you’ll learn to distinguish between inflation-driven GDP, and improvement-driven GDP.

Oh, and we’ll also show you a handy little tool named FRED — the Federal Reserve Economic Data website.

FRED will help you study how real GDP has changed over the years. It’ll show you what it looks like during healthy times, and during recessions. FRED will help you answer the question, “If prices hadn’t changed, how much would GDP truly have increased?”

FRED will also show you how to account for population, by helping you compute a key figure: real GDP per capita. Once you learn all this, not only will you see past the the nominal GDP-mirage, but you’ll also get an idea of how to answer our central question:

“Are we better off than we were all those years ago?”

February 13, 2017

What is Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 18 Nov 2015

Picture the economy as a giant supermarket, with billions of goods and services inside. At the checkout line, you watch as the cashier rings up the price for each finished good or service sold. What have you just observed?

The cashier is computing a very important number: gross domestic product, or GDP.

GDP is the market value of all finished goods and services, produced within a country in a year.

But, what does “market value” mean? And what defines a “finished good”?

These, and more questions, percolate inside your head. Meanwhile, the cashier starts ringing up the total, and you’re left confused. An array of things pass by you — A bottle of wine. A carton of eggs. A cake from the local bakers. A tractor, of all things. A bunch of ballpens. A bag of flour.

In this video, join us as we show you how to make sense of this important economic indicator. You’ll learn how GDP is computed, and you’ll get answers to some pretty interesting questions along the way.

Questions like, “Why are the eggs in my homemade omelet part of the GDP, but the eggs my baker uses are not? Why does my bottle of French wine contribute to France’s GDP, even if I bought it in the United States?”

Most importantly, you’ll also learn why polar bears aren’t part of the GDP computation, even if they’re incredibly cute.

So, buckle in for a bit—in the following videos we’ll dive into specifics on GDP.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress