Trillion-Dollar Economy: Prosperity Under Strain

June 17, 1970

Report Outline
America: The World's First Trillionaire
Growth of Economy Since Colonial Times
Increasing Complexity of Economic Policy
Special Focus

America: The World's First Trillionaire

Economy's Approach to Trillion-Dollar Landmark

Sometime late in 1970 or early in 1971, the United States will become the first country in the world to boast a trillion-dollar economy; that is, the gross national product—the market value of goods and services produced in the country in terms of 1970 dollars—will reach $1 trillion at an annual rate. It hardly needs saying that such an achievement is prodigious—in particular because it comes barely more than a decade since G.N.P. first reached the $500-billion level. And that is not all: Impact, a weekly business and tax report, predicted on Dec. 22. 1969, that it would not be long before G.N.P. doubled again: “After taking nearly 200 years to log in its first trillion dollars, the U.S. economy will need only 10 more—the seventies—to achieve its second.”

Still, the near-miracle of a trillion-dollar economy probably will receive mixed notices. It will be pointed out that around $250 billion of the $1 trillion G.N.P. represents post-1958 inflation. And numerous observers already have noted that gross national product makes no qualitative distinctions among its components—The 25 cents spent on pretzels chewed listlessly in a cinema by some overweight matron enters the grand computation on the same terms as 25 cents spent on a bowl of soup by an emaciated pauper.

Americans in general are more prosperous in 1970 than they were in 1960, despite the inflation that has occurred in the intervening period. Paradoxically, though, they appear to feel less sure of themselves and hence less well off materially. A staff correspondent reported from Miami in the May 18, 1970, issue of U.S. News & World Report: “Most people are making more and enjoying it less because, very often, they have less to enjoy,” Sterling E. Soderlind. writing in the Wall Street Journal, July 7, 1969, asserted that rising discontent amid continuing prosperity “grows out of our accelerating aspirations.” He explained: “There is increasing evidence that our ascending affluence as we head into a trill ion-dollar economy cannot match the expansion of our national goals. Tax-burdened citizens are aware that they no longer (if they ever did) live in an America - Is - Rich - Enough - To - Do - Anything - It - Wants -To - Do period.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Economic Development