Economic Growth

This chapter analyzes economic growth by examining the aggregate production function. Sources of economic growth are identified and growth rates of different countries are compared.

Growth and the Long-Run Aggregate Supply Curve

The Aggregate Production Function

An aggregate production function relates the total output of an economy to the total amount of labor employed in the economy, all other determinants of production (that is, capital, natural resources, and technology) being unchanged. An economy operating on its aggregate production function is producing its potential level of output.

Figure 8.5 "The Aggregate Production Function" shows an aggregate production function (PF). It shows output levels for a range of employment between 120 million and 140 million workers. When the level of employment is 120 million, the economy produces a real GDP of $11,500 billion (point A). A level of employment of 130 million produces a real GDP of $12,000 billion (point B), and when 140 million workers are employed, a real GDP of $12,300 billion is produced (point C). In drawing the aggregate production function, the amount of labor varies, but everything else that could affect output, specifically the quantities of other factors of production and technology, is fixed.

The shape of the aggregate production function shows that as employment increases, output increases, but at a decreasing rate. Increasing employment from 120 million to 130 million, for example, increases output by $500 billion to $12,000 billion at point B. The next 10 million workers increase production by $300 billion to $12,300 billion at point C. This example illustrates diminishing marginal returns. Diminishing marginal returns occur when additional units of a variable factor add less and less to total output, given constant quantities of other factors.

Figure 8.5 The Aggregate Production Function

Figure 8.5

An aggregate production function (PF) relates total output to total employment, assuming all other factors of production and technology are fixed. It shows that increases in employment lead to increases in output but at a decreasing rate.

It is easy to picture the problem of diminishing marginal returns in the context of a single firm. The firm is able to increase output by adding workers. But because the firm's plant size and stock of equipment are fixed, the firm's capital per worker falls as it takes on more workers. Each additional worker adds less to output than the worker before. The firm, like the economy, experiences diminishing marginal returns.