caloric intake and GDP

I’m reading a New York Review of Books review of The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death. It’s a very interesting article, talking about the radical change in human nutrition that occured over the last three hundred years, but something specific caught my eye. The reviewer quotes the book:

The available data suggest that the average efficiency of the human engine in Britain increased by about 53 percent between 1790 and 1980. The combined effect of the increase in dietary energy available for work, and of the increased human efficiency in transforming dietary energy into work output, appears to account for about 50 percent of the British economic growth since 1790.

I have long suspected that “economic growth” has, as an underlying primary cause, the growth in either the number of humans or their individual labour contributions, and comparitively little from automation or other devices. For example, I argue that the differential economic growth of America vs. Europe over the last two decades are primarily down to the US’s looser immigration policy and higher reproduction rate. If true, that means that global economic growth should come to a close by around 2050, less whatever degree of malnutrition and other deprivation exists at that point.

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