The Rise and Fall of American Growth

In this post Joshua Kim reviews Robert J. Gordon’s new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth. In the book Gordon questions the idea of a bright future based on technological progress. He compares the rise of American living standards between 1870 and 1970 with what has happened to them since 1970. He concludes that our economic growth going forward will pale compared to the earlier period. For one thing, living standards and the used of various technologies were very low in 1870. He says that developments such as the decline in infant mortality, the prevention of infectious diseases, and the rise of mass schooling are developments that can happen only once. Gordon discusses several factors that have slowed economic growth since 1970, such as rising inequality and crumbling infrastructure, poor schools, rising student debt, the decline of unionization, the erosion of marriage and children being brought up by both parents.

He points out that the incredible advances in digital technology since 1970, have a small footprint compared to earlier economic developments have a comparatively small footprint and have not resulted in huge increases in employment and that digital technologies do not do much to increase economic productivity (many would question this). He says that most of the people who benefit from technological advances are a fairly small group of highly educated and creative professionals.Gordon does not think that a lot of jobs will disappear in the future, but rather, many more low-paying jobs and a few high-paying jobs will be created. Joshua Kim feels that the advances in educational technology in the future will mainly benefit those who are already members of the privileged classes.
Personal Note: About 40% of Americans have a college degree. There are plenty of good jobs that don’t require a degree, but they all require specialized training. Our challenge in America is to make it possible for all Americans to get the education, and or training needed to staff all these jobs. We don’t want 30% of our citizens to have to work at fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
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