Over the past 200 years or so, each next generation in Europe/Germany is substantially richer than the previous one – with higher income, more to spend, more leisure time and holidays, better health. We might forget about this amazing and robust phenomenon of economic growth when it is hidden by the irregular rhythm of big events, like war, the German post-war divide and subsequent unification, or the global big recession of 2008. To better appreciate what kind of progress economic growth has brought us, we need to see the pattern over many generations and we should go back in time – maybe as far as Luther, Leibniz, and Bach’s time.
This lecture first aims to discuss the roots of economic growth. Are we really richer than the wealthy merchant in 17th century Leipzig? Why was the peasant that fought in the Peasant War (1525) as poor as his descendant who defeated Napoleon at the Völkerschlacht (1813) three centuries later, but why did economic growth start to benefit peasant and merchant alike after Napoleon, Marx, and Bismarck? We show how recent advances in economics and economic history have increased – and sometimes changed – our understanding of economic growth in the past and presence.
The lecture also looks ahead. If global climate problems continue to be unsolvable in international agreements and population aging further puts more pressure on welfare systems, our future economy might be significantly poorer. Moreover, consumerism and overexploitation of the world’s natural resources in the pursuit of economic growth have evoked criticism of the capitalist model of growth and its moral grounds. We discuss how environmental economics and climate science has recently provided new answers to these challenges.
The lecture consists of a number of blocks on different but related aspects of economic growth. The blocks are separated by Baroque music, performed by Maartje van den Boom-Coppes (recorder) and Ramon van den Boom (harpsichord). As complement to understanding economic history through scientific theories and empirical facts, music can make us relive and experience the emotions and sounds of the past.
Prof. Dr. Sjak Smulders (Tilburg U)
Smulders’ research examines the impact of environmental and energy policies on economic growth as well as the sources of economic growth in a variety of contexts. He has analysed under what conditions economic growth can be sustained without deteriorating environmental quality. Recent work has focused on the question whether the stimulation of technological change can reduce the cost of environmental policies in general and the cost of climate change and energy conservation policies in particular. Ongoing projects study the role of consumption and habits for growth and environment. Most of the work is based on small analytical models in the endogenous growth tradition. Other interests include public economics, economic history, and international trade.