It must always have been seen, more or less distinctly, by political economists, that the increase of wealth is not boundless: that at the end of what they term the progressive state lies the stationary state, that all progress in wealth is but a postponement of this, and that each step in advance is an approach to it. We have now been led to recognize that this ultimate goal is at all times near enough to be fully in view; that we are always on the verge of it, and that if we have not reached it long ago, it is because the goal itself flies before us. The richest and most prosperous countries would very soon attain the stationary state, if no further improvements were made in the productive arts, and if there were a suspension of the overflow of capital from those countries into the uncultivated or ill-cultivated regions of the earth.
John Stewart Mill
Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy
Book IV, Chapter VI
Of the Stationary State
It is an odd world that we have constructed.
Nature appears to be sinusoidal, with peaks and valleys and the bulks of time and effort spent between the two extremes. We scramble to get to the top of the curve. We scramble to slow our descent to the bottom of the trough.
But in economics, we appear to have created a cult where negative slope is not allowable, where M is wished to be as large a number as possible and cannot ever, ever be negative without a considerable amount of hair pulling and teeth gnashing.
But at what point does one have to come to the conclusion that an endlessly upward spiral is not available? Is such a conclusion valid? I tend to think of things mathematically, and if we have used up half of something, and are increasing the rate of withdrawal, it looks to me that things are going to get harder, not easier, and the reality of a downward trending line keeps increasing.
Because everything reverts to mean. An advance will be met by a downward pressure. A decline will be followed by a rise. Where we are, the magnitude and direction of the slope and the derivative of the function are what worries us day to day. Looking back and taking a long view gives us the pleasure of looking at integral calculus.