Review of Industrial Organization 14: 391–396, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
A Doodles Theory of Economic Growth
DONALD C. WELLINGTON
Department of Economics, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati OH 45221-0371
Abstract. Fate bringeth economic growth and malfeasance giveth its gains.
Key words: Fate, growth
Whenever someone begins expounding an economic theory of economic growth,
my mind shuts down and I feel like saying, “Wake me up when you have ﬁnished.
Without hearing one word, I don’t believe you.”
My dismissive attitude stems from a ﬁrm belief in a doodles theory of economic
growth. It has a distinct virtue: it does not explain economic growth in terms of
uniquely modern phenomena or considerations. It regards economic growth as
arising essentially and primarily from inventions which is not an uncommon point
of view (Singer, 1954–58; Usher, 1954; Veblen, 1964), although not by any means
a ubiquitous opinion among economists. What is more unique about the theory is
its recognition of two central aspects of invention.
The ﬁrst is that invention has been a human activity for some time. No people
have appeared in recorded history without using hundreds and frequently thousands
of inventions. Such a record implies that processes of invention began thousands,
if not millions, of years ago.
The second aspect is that any inventor would have been a fool to make an in-
vention for strictly economic motives. The reason is that an invention, once made,
can have usually been copied with the utmost ease.
These two features lead to a mystery. How can such a ubiquitous and important
human activity have occurred in the absence of a strong motive of self-interest?
Answer: the consequences are enormously important, but the motive is weak.
The powerful motives in human nature are the same as in any species. They
arise from the instinctive needs for food, drink, shelter and elimination. Endeavors
to meet them do not, however, necessarily exhaust every minute of a creature’s
waking life. When they don’t, the creature usually sits or lies in idleness. So can
we. We could twiddle our thumbs throughout our moments of leisure. It would be
a somewhat boring life, and we seek ways to relieve the tedium. Doodles are the