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The Rise and Fall of American Growth
Cover of The Rise and Fall of American Growth
The Rise and Fall of American Growth
The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War
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In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, motor vehicles, air travel, and television transformed households and workplaces. But has that era of unprecedented growth come to an end? Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis, The Rise and Fall of American Growth challenges the view that economic growth will continue unabated, and demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 cannot be repeated. Gordon contends that the nation's productivity growth will be further held back by the headwinds of rising inequality, stagnating education, an aging population, and the rising debt of college students and the federal government, and that we must find new solutions. A critical voice in the most pressing debates of our time, The Rise and Fall of American Growth is at once a tribute to a century of radical change and a harbinger of tougher times to come.

In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, motor vehicles, air travel, and television transformed households and workplaces. But has that era of unprecedented growth come to an end? Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis, The Rise and Fall of American Growth challenges the view that economic growth will continue unabated, and demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 cannot be repeated. Gordon contends that the nation's productivity growth will be further held back by the headwinds of rising inequality, stagnating education, an aging population, and the rising debt of college students and the federal government, and that we must find new solutions. A critical voice in the most pressing debates of our time, The Rise and Fall of American Growth is at once a tribute to a century of radical change and a harbinger of tougher times to come.

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About the Author-
  • Robert J. Gordon is professor in social sciences at Northwestern University. His books include Productivity Growth, Inflation, and Unemployment and Macroeconomics. Gordon was included in the 2016 Bloomberg list of the nation's most influential thinkers.
Table of Contents-
  • Preface ix
    1. Introduction: The Ascent and Descent of Growth 1
    PART I. 1870–1940—THE GREAT INVENTIONS CREATE A REVOLUTION INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE HOME 25
    2. The Starting Point: Life and Work in 1870 27
    3. What They Ate and Wore and Where They Bought It 62
    4. The American Home: From Dark and Isolated to Bright and Networked 94
    5. Motors Overtake Horses and Rail: Inventions and Incremental Improvements 129
    6. From Telegraph to Talkies: Information, Communication, and Entertainment 172
    7. Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Illness and Early Death 206
    8. Working Conditions on the Job and at Home 247
    9. Taking and Mitigating Risks: Consumer Credit, Insurance, and the Government 288
    Entr'acte. The Midcentury Shift from Revolution to Evolution 319
    PART II. 1940–2015—THE GOLDEN AGE AND THE EARLY WARNINGS OF SLOWER GROWTH 329
    10. Fast Food, Synthetic Fibers, and Split-Level Subdivisions: The Slowing Transformation of Food, Clothing, and Housing 331
    11. See the USA in Your Chevrolet or from a Plane Flying High Above 374
    12. Entertainment and Communications from Milton Berle to the iPhone 409
    13. Computers and the Internet from the Mainframe to Facebook 441
    14. Antibiotics, CT Scans, and the Evolution of Health and Medicine 461
    15. Work, Youth, and Retirement at Home and on the Job 498
    Entr'acte. Toward an Understanding of Slower Growth 522
    PART III. THE SOURCES OF FASTER AND SLOWER GROWTH 533
    16. The Great Leap Forward from the 1920s to the 1950s: What Set of Miracles Created It? 535
    17. Innovation: Can the Future Match the Great Inventions of the Past? 566
    18. Inequality and the Other Headwinds: Long-Run American Economic Growth Slows to a Crawl 605
    Postscript: America's Growth Achievement and the Path Ahead 641
    Acknowledgments 653
    Data Appendix 657
    Notes 667
    References 717
    Credits 741
    Index 745

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    Starred review from November 15, 2015
    A comprehensive analysis of "one of the most fundamental questions about American economic history." Gordon (Social Sciences/Northwestern Univ.; Macroeconomics, 2008, etc.), a respected macroeconomist, provides a groundbreaking contribution to political economy. His emphasis is quite different from the familiar concerns of budget deficits and quarterly profits. He compares the growth of real wages, living standards, and innovations in technology over two periods: 1870 to 1940 and 1940 to 1970. The author identifies advances in lifestyles, and he establishes that New Deal labor policies, which caused real wages to rise faster than productivity, laid the foundation for "the Great Leap Forward" in the middle of the 20th century. The author also shows how horse-drawn streetcars and steam-powered trains expanded urban activities, and he examines how electrification and the internal combustion engine powered the Second Industrial Revolution. Gordon is primarily concerned with the quality of these successive improvements--which, he writes, "are missing from GDP altogether"--as well as the consumer price index, which tracks current sales and prices. "Our measure of capital input," he writes, "is newly developed for this book and adjusts for the unusual aspects of investment behavior during the 1930s and 1940s." The author uses his fresh methods to back his argument for the primary significance of the reforms that took place during the New Deal. These policies, many of which are now considered failures, are thus shown to have provided the groundwork for what was to come. This Great Leap Forward generated the momentum that continued into the 1970s. The book is not for general readers, but students and scholars in economics and American history will find within these pages much illuminating interpretation of a massive amount of data. A masterful study to be read and reread by anyone interested in today's political economy.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2015

    Gordon (economics, Northwestern Univ.) indicates that after the Civil War there was an economic revolution that changed the American standard of living, but that the rate of technological change has been slowing down. Coverage begins in 1870; there was little economic growth prior to that, as peasant life remained basically unchanged. Electricity, internal combustion engines, running water, indoor toilets, communication, entertainment, chemicals, and petroleum--these have created a tremendous growth in the American economy. Owing to medical discoveries, the life expectancy between 1870 and 1970 increased from 45 to 72 years. However, that century didn't have an aging population, the increasing debt of college student loans, rising inequality, and stagnating education. The author warns of forthcoming change and increasingly tough times: the younger generation might be the first not to increase their standard of living. VERDICT This specialized book will interest the individual scholar and to a lesser extent the general reader. Patrons might also consult American Economic Growth and Standards of Living Before the Civil War, edited by Robert E. Gallman and John Joseph Wallis.--Claude Ury, San Francisco

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • A New York Times Bestseller "[The Rise and Fall of American Growth] is full of wonder for the miraculous things that America has accomplished."
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The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War
Robert J. Gordon
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