From Our Members

Dan Donahoe

IEEE Senior Member


In my introduction to this column, I promised to write about engineering in terms of the parable of the blind man and the elephant. I claimed that business and economics is one of these viewpoints, and I wrote the following paragraphs to support that claim.

In the figure below, I plotted productivity (Gross Domestic Product, GDP) data provided by Bradley DeLong in his Estimates of World GDP, One Million B.C. – Present.  Note that the GDP is in 1990 dollars. 

Economists have determined that productivity through almost all of human history has primarily been determined by population size. This economic rule by population size was true until the advent of the Industrial Revolution which introduced labor-enhancing machinery. Since it takes time for any newly introduced technology to “diffuse” from isolated usage to widespread adoption throughout society, the productivity rise over succeeding years evolution after the Industrial Revolution likely reflects that diffusion.

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