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Are we investing too little?

  • Lynn Elaine Browne
  • Rebecca Hellerstein

One of the most disappointing features of U.S. economic performance over the past 20 years has been the slowing of growth in productivity and, as a result, in real incomes. For many, the explanation can be found in the low U.S. saving rate. Since the mid 1980s, national saving has averaged just over 15 percent of GDP, compared to more than 20 percent during the 1970s. Thus, one plausible explanation for slow productivity growth, at least in recent years, could be that our low saving rate is constraining investment and thereby depriving the nation of both the tools and the technologies that would leverage human skills.> This article considers whether the decline in the U.S. saving rate necessarily means that investment spending is "too low." The authors show that private domestic investment has fallen less than one might infer from the decline in saving, and business use of credit markets in the 1990s has remained unusually low even as the cost of capital has fallen. They highlight the growing importance of investment in business equipment, especially computers, during the 1980s and 1990s, and they suggest that this shift in the composition of investment, coupled with the rapid decline in computer prices, may account for some of the inconsistencies in saving and investment patterns. In particular, investment spending may be limited by the ability of businesses to absorb the new information technology.

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Article provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its journal New England Economic Review.

Volume (Year): (1997)
Issue (Month): Nov ()
Pages: 29-50

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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbne:y:1997:i:nov:p:29-50
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  1. Coen, Robert M, 1975. "Investment Behavior, the Measurement of Depreciation, and Tax Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(1), pages 59-74, March.
  2. Martin Feldstein & Lawrence Summers, 1977. "Is the Rate of Profit Falling?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 8(1), pages 211-228.
  3. Fuhrer, Jeffrey C & Moore, George R, 1995. "Monetary Policy Trade-offs and the Correlation between Nominal Interest Rates and Real Output," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(1), pages 219-39, March.
  4. Martin S. Feldstein, 1997. "The Costs and Benefits of Going from Low Inflation to Price Stability," NBER Chapters, in: Reducing Inflation: Motivation and Strategy, pages 123-166 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Aschauer, David Alan, 1989. "Is public expenditure productive?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 177-200, March.
  6. Lynn Elaine Browne & Joshua Gleason, 1996. "The saving mystery, or where did the money go?," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Sep, pages 15-27.
  7. Barry P. Bosworth, 1985. "Taxes and the Investment Recovery," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 16(1), pages 1-45.
  8. Hulten, Charles R. & Wykoff, Frank C., 1981. "The estimation of economic depreciation using vintage asset prices : An application of the Box-Cox power transformation," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 15(3), pages 367-396, April.
  9. Richard W. Kopcke, 1993. "The determinants of business investment: has capital spending been surprisingly low?," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Jan, pages 3-31.
  10. J. Bradford De Long & Lawrence H. Summers, 1990. "Equipment Investment and Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 3515, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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