Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds
This paper raises basic questions about the process of economic growth. It questions the assumption, nearly universal since Solow's seminal contributions of the 1950s, that economic growth is a continuous process that will persist forever. There was virtually no growth before 1750, and thus there is no guarantee that growth will continue indefinitely. Rather, the paper suggests that the rapid progress made over the past 250 years could well turn out to be a unique episode in human history. The paper is only about the United States and views the future from 2007 while pretending that the financial crisis did not happen. Its point of departure is growth in per-capita real GDP in the frontier country since 1300, the U.K. until 1906 and the U.S. afterwards. Growth in this frontier gradually accelerated after 1750, reached a peak in the middle of the 20th century, and has been slowing down since. The paper is about "how much further could the frontier growth rate decline?" The analysis links periods of slow and rapid growth to the timing of the three industrial revolutions (IR's), that is, IR #1 (steam, railroads) from 1750 to 1830; IR #2 (electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals, petroleum) from 1870 to 1900; and IR #3 (computers, the web, mobile phones) from 1960 to present. It provides evidence that IR #2 was more important than the others and was largely responsible for 80 years of relatively rapid productivity growth between 1890 and 1972. Once the spin-off inventions from IR #2 (airplanes, air conditioning, interstate highways) had run their course, productivity growth during 1972-96 was much slower than before. In contrast, IR #3 created only a short-lived growth revival between 1996 and 2004. Many of the original and spin-off inventions of IR #2 could happen only once - urbanization, transportation speed, the freedom of females from the drudgery of carrying tons of water per year, and the role of central heating and air conditioning in achieving a year-round constant temperature. Even if innovation were to continue into the future at the rate of the two decades before 2007, the U.S. faces six headwinds that are in the process of dragging long-term growth to half or less of the 1.9 percent annual rate experienced between 1860 and 2007. These include demography, education, inequality, globalization, energy/environment, and the overhang of consumer and government debt. A provocative "exercise in subtraction" suggests that future growth in consumption per capita for the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution could fall below 0.5 percent per year for an extended period of decades.
|Date of creation:||Aug 2012|
|Date of revision:|
|Note:||DAE EFG PR|
|Contact details of provider:|| Postal: |
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Robert J. Gordon, 2000.
"Does the "New Economy" Measure Up to the Great Inventions of the Past?,"
Journal of Economic Perspectives,
American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 49-74, Fall.
- Robert J. Gordon, 2000. "Does the "New Economy" Measure up to the Great Inventions of the Past?," NBER Working Papers 7833, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Gordon, Robert J, 2000. "Does the 'New Economy' Measure up to the Great Inventions of the Past?," CEPR Discussion Papers 2607, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
- John W. Kendrick, 1961. "Productivity Trends in the United States," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kend61-1, October.
- Daron Acemoglu & David Autor, 2012.
"What Does Human Capital Do? A Review of Goldin and Katz's The Race between Education and Technology,"
Journal of Economic Literature,
American Economic Association, vol. 50(2), pages 426-63, June.
- Daron Acemoglu & David Autor, 2012. "What Does Human Capital Do? A Review of Goldin and Katz's The Race between Education and Technology," NBER Working Papers 17820, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Kremer, Michael, 1993. "Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(3), pages 681-716, August.
- Broadberry, Stephen; Campbell, Bruce; Klein, Alexander; Overton, Mark; Van Leeuwen, Bas., 2010. "English Economic Growth: 1270 - 1870," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 35, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18315. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.