The past and future of American economic growth

by CLSA / Sep 18, 2016

Robert Gordon, Stanley G. Harris Professor, Northwestern University


Presentation: The history of American economic growth since the late 19th Century features a highly uneven trajectory, with much faster productivity growth between 1920 and 1970 than the period before or since.

The explanation lies in the timing of inventions, with those that contributed the most to economic expansion, including electricity and the internal-combustion engine, occurring in the late 19th Century. The digital revolution associated with computer technology began in 1960, but had a smaller and shorter impact on productivity growth over 1995-2004. There were many special and temporary aspects of growth in that decade that were unique and unlikely to happen again. Today is characterised by a paradox, with a lot of innovative activity yet only a small impact on economy-wide productivity growth.

Robert Gordon will assess developments in robots, 3D-printing, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. Weighing down on the economy’s capacity to grow are four headwinds: education, demography, inequality and fiscal debt, as well as a socioeconomic headwind in the form of fewer marriages and more children being raised by a single parent. Gordon will conclude with forecasts of future growth in productivity and income per person.

About Robert Gordon: Gordon has taught at Northwestern University since 1973, with previous teaching positions at Harvard and the University of Chicago. He is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a member of the NBER’s Business Cycle Dating Committee, a research fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (London) and the Observatoire Français des Conjunctures Economiques (Paris), and an economic adviser to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Gordon’s books include Macroeconomics, twelfth edition, which has been translated into eight languages, and three scholarly books: The Measurement of Durable Goods Prices, The American Business Cycle, and The Economics of New Goods. His book of collected essays is Productivity Growth, Inflation, and Unemployment.

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