Warren Buffett, the CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said years of growth lie ahead and he’s confident that America can both deliver riches to many and a decent life to all. Buffett wrote on Time:
I have good news. First, most American children are going to live far better than their parents did. Second, large gains in the living standards of Americans will continue for many generations to come.
Some years back, people generally agreed with my optimism. Today, however, pollsters find that most Americans are pessimistic about their children’s future. Politicians, business leaders and the press constantly tell us that our economic machine is sputtering. Their evidence: GDP growth of only 2% or so in recent years.
Before we shed tears over that figure, let’s do a little math, recognizing that GDP per capita is what counts. If, for example, the U.S. population were to grow 3% annually while GDP grew 2%, prospects would indeed be bleak for our children.
But that’s not the case. We can be confident that births minus deaths will add no more than 0.5% yearly to America’s population. Immigration is more difficult to predict. I believe 1 million people annually is a reasonable estimate, an influx that will add 0.3% annually to population growth.
In total, therefore, you can expect America’s population to increase about 0.8% a year. Under that assumption, gains of 2% in real GDP–that is, without nominal gains produced by inflation–will annually deliver 1.2% growth in per capita GDP.
This pace no doubt sounds paltry. But over time, it works wonders. In 25 years–a single generation–1.2% annual growth boosts our current $59,000 of GDP per capita to $79,000. This $20,000 increase guarantees a far better life for our children.