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You need capital to build capital. This results in exponential growth. What happens on Earth now isn't intrinsically all that important, but if we can build a good economy now, it will help later. It's sort of like how having more workers at the beginning of an RTS can ensure victory, even though there's little actual fighting until the end.

That being said, most of what we produce is pretty worthless in the long run. Also, I've looked at a lot of GDP curves, and many of them seem to be more linear than exponential. I'm sure there are other measures that would be more useful.