Twilight of the Gods

Robert Gordon occupies the Stanley G. Harris Chair of Social Sciences at Northwestern University and is the author of a number of works on economic growth, productivity, and unemployment.  His present book has been eagerly awaited, owing to the publication of two “working papers” in 2010 and 2012 by the National Board of Economic Growth—papers that anticipated the argument made here, which may be summarized as follows: Between 1870 and 1970 Americans experienced an unprecedented era of economic growth, one in which prosperity was accompanied by much lower levels of economic inequality than those we have seen since.  Regarding this part of his thesis, there is little disagreement.  More controversial is his assertion that the decline in American growth that began roughly in the early 1970’s will remain the stark reality of the 21st century.  Although he positions himself against the “techno-optimists” whose faith in the promise of innovations such as AI and robotics to produce yet another industrial revolution he does not share, Gordon is not a prophet of gloom—not quite.  He presents a realistic, if much chastened, vision of what 21st-century Americans can expect: If the American Dream is predicated on the assumption that our children and grandchildren can hope for a standard of living more affluent than our own, then that dream, if not extinguished, will be much diminished in...

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