I am looking for a term for systems or dynamics in which the ability to earn a particular resource requires having a minimum of that resource available, and grows progressively or exponentially with it. I want to do some research on “you need money to make money” situations, but applied to non economic contexts as well.

I originally posted this in the Economics Stack Exchange, thinking that there must be some economic or game theory concept that describes this, but to no luck.

P.D.: no, I’m not looking for the word “capitalism”.


Robert Merton observed that well-known and successful people often get the credit for the discoveries and inventions of more obscure colleagues, which they only copied, just because more people were familiar with their work. He called this the Matthew Effect, after Matthew 25:29:

For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

This was almost certainly written down first in the Gospel of Mark, but Matthew gets the credit because it was already better known. The name is now used in other contexts as well, such as for students who fall behind having a hard time catching up.

  • This is a fantastic answer, thanks a lot, Davislor. – agente_secreto Nov 13 '19 at 21:38
  • In fact, after reading more about it, this is exactly what I was looking for :) – agente_secreto Nov 13 '19 at 21:45

for a term for systems or dynamics in which the ability to earn a particular resource requires having a minimum of that resource available, and grows progressively or exponentially with it.

In engineering, we call this a positive feedback system, or feedback loop.

In other contexts, if the end result is negative, you could call it a vicious cycle, and if the end result is positive you could call it a virtuous cycle. However these terms are more often used when the chain of causality between having the resource and getting more of it is somewhat complex. Simply earning interest on savings, for example, would not be considered a virtuous cycle.

  • Supported by positive feedback as given in Lexico, but not quite like M-W. – Weather Vane Nov 12 '19 at 23:10
  • I was thinking Feedback Loop but not sure if that is different enough to this answer to create another one. – Craig H Nov 13 '19 at 9:55
  • @craigH positive feedback system and positive feedback loop are synonyms. It's the positive or negative which is key. – thosphor Nov 13 '19 at 11:06
  • @CraigH, good suggestion, edited. – The Photon Nov 13 '19 at 16:02
  • @xiota, Italics are traditionally used to introduce new terms, and I follow this tradition. Please don't make ticky-tack edits just because you think your style of writing is better than mine. – The Photon Nov 13 '19 at 16:04

It snowballs:

Metaphorically, a snowball effect is a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger (graver, more serious), and also perhaps potentially dangerous or disastrous (a vicious circle), though it might be beneficial instead (a virtuous circle).


There’s both the verb (to snowball) and the expression (snowball effect), which can be used in many different contexts and are widely understood. Here is an example related to money and investing:

And over time, the money snowballs and compounds, which is a concept I cover later in this chapter.

  • Note: the debt snowball method actually costs you more money than the optimal way to pay off debt, but it feels better. – user253751 Nov 13 '19 at 13:01

Using your financial example: seed-capital or seed-funding would describe a situation where you need to invest a small amount to 'kick-start' a project from which you hope to achieve larger returns.

In other areas you could still 'seed' the process, by adding a small amount of the thing, in a similar sense.

"plant the seeds..." "sow the seeds..."

  • Thanks Neil. Hmm, that’s one specific instance of the type of situation I want a term form. What I am looking for is a term that describes the wider dynamic, like “zero sum game” does for other systems. – agente_secreto Nov 12 '19 at 20:53
  • Have you seen this: english.stackexchange.com/questions/83050/… – NeilB Nov 12 '19 at 21:08

I think what you're looking for is just exponential growth itself.

In math, an exponential function is a function that changes exponentially. An exponential growth function is one that grows exponentially.

It should be globally understood when you say something is growing exponentially or something has exponential growth. Also, an exponential growth has some critical point where it cannot really grow in population cases (because of deaths). There's some bottom limit to where it can start growing.

A classical example is a population without any natural predators. Let's say a bacteria culture in lab environment. The more bacteria you have at point T in time, the more bacteria you will have at T+1. If you have N at T then you have 2N at T+1. So the end result would be the following series assuming the bacteria never dies: [..., 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, ...].

Not sure if the image is showing up imgur is blocked in my country, so here's the source link: https://ourworldindata.org/exports/world-population-by-world-regions-post-1820_v12_850x600.svg

  • Thanks John, this is very useful, but I’m looking for a term or concept that emphasises the inability to earn something without having some in the first place. – agente_secreto Nov 13 '19 at 21:42

In certain card games, such as Magic the Gathering, an effect like what you're describing is called win more. The idea is that if you're using this sort of effect, you're already probably winning, and the effect simply makes you win even harder than you would have without it. This is generally regarded as something to be avoided, since it doesn't matter how hard you win in these games - it doesn't matter if you're at one life or a million, a win is a win and a loss is a loss.


Probably the expression:

Money makes money

If you have money, you can use it to get more money through investment.


An earlier version of this saying is: "Money begets money." | beget (verb) = give birth to; bring about | Both versions of this saying hint at social inequality. Compare: "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer."


And the proverb:

It takes money to make money

Prov. In order to make money, you must first have some money to invest. I've been reading a lot of books about how to become wealthy, and they all make it depressingly clear that it takes money to make money.

(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs)

  • It's not just income. With more money, one has fewer expenses. Richer people don't need life insurance, don't pay bank fees, don't pay credit card interest, can buy sale items in bulk, can buy better quality goods that cost three times as much but last five times as long, … . – Ray Butterworth Nov 13 '19 at 1:29

GRAVITY - the force that is rooted in one's mass. You have a tiny bit of mass; you have a tiny bit of gravitational strength. With that level of strength you draw little bits of mass toward yourself, ultimately that approaching mass joins with the mass that was drawing it, and the new, greater mass object does in fact, draw greater amounts of mass, exponentially.

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