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Where does wealth come from

Over the years and centuries economic indicators tell us that the GDP per capita of the world has been increasing. Where is all the wealth coming from. A lot of it comes from the inclusion of unaccounted wealth into the market and capitalist system, think slavery, expropriation of  colonial property and exploitation. But alongside there is “real” growth, meaning more than just redistribution of wealth.

Marx would say this comes from labor itself, but the question is simply removed to the scale of the Earth. Braudel has the idea of the economy of the world including animals, plants, and non-living materials. The earth increases in size by 50 thousand tons every year from space debris and solar wind, but it loses a few kg of gas every minute. Plants convert solar energy to change chemical bonds from one to another, they do not increase the mass of the earth either but simply redistribute it. Though in a sense they do increase mass by changing the chemical bond but that amount is negligible. Thus Battaile’s solar economy is not really correct because all the heat the sun is providing is not really converted into mass. The earth is supposedly losing mass because the weight of the gas lost exceeds the weight of solar debris gained.

Where does wealth come from? If we think of a world economy of GDP as increasing it becomes plausible to say that  the economy of the world is zero sum. Thus human growth is possible by exerting labor to transform things in the earth economy and bring it into the human economy. This raises interesting questions about sustainable growth and whether it is possible at all. I had imagined that plant growth may be a sustainable foundation for a sustainable economy but given that plants don’t create mass from energy, that too is zero sum in some way.






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