Quartz |After 150 years, the American productivity miracle is over
Economist Robert Gordon has spent his career studying what makes the US labor force one of the world’s most productive.
And he has some bad news.
American workers still produce some of most economic activity per hour of any economy in the world. But the near-miraculous productivity growth that essentially transformed the US into one of the world’s most affluent societies is permanently in the country’s rearview mirror.
In his magisterial new book,The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the Northwestern University professor lays out the case that the productivity miracle underlying the American way of life was largely a one-time deal. It was driven by a flurry of technologies—electric lights, telephones, automobiles, indoor plumbing—that fundamentally transformed millions of American lives within a matter of decades.
By comparison, Gordon argues, today’s technological advancements—Uber, Facebook, Amazon.com—will touch the productivity of the American economy lightly—if at all. And a combination of demographic factors, such as the aging of the US population, and sociological problems such as growing inequality and educational performance that’s worsened in comparison to many other rich nations, will stymie economic growth for the foreseeable future.