A New York Times Best Seller
In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television transformed households and workplaces. With medical advances, life expectancy between 1870 and 1970 grew from 45 to 72 years. Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis, The Rise and Fall of American Growth provides an in-depth account of this momentous era. But has that era of unprecedented growth come to an end?
Gordon challenges the view that economic growth can or will continue unabated, and he demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 can't be repeated. He contends that the nation's productivity growth, which has already slowed to a crawl, will be further held back by the vexing headwinds of rising inequality, stagnating education, an aging population, and the rising debt of college students and the federal government. Gordon warns that the younger generation may be the first in American history that fails to exceed their parents' standard of living, and that rather than depend on the great advances of the past, we must find new solutions to overcome the challenges facing us.
A critical voice in the debates over economic stagnation, 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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©2016 Princeton University Press (P)2016 Audible, Inc.
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"The book is a great review of how we got to where we are today"
I loved the review of the industrial revolution and learning where various technological changes came from. His suggestions of how to increase American growth seemed pretty standard though. I was disappointed with that. It seemed like he just phoned in that part of the book. We've heard all those recommendations before. The book is worth the time though.
"Excellent Book, Too many charts for listening"
I enjoyed this book, particularly the comparisons of life in the US before and after 1870.There are too many charts and numbers in this book to always allow one to only listen. Book was written to be read "in person" with numbers and charts available for viewing and reviewing. The performance was technically well done, but somehow off-putting and slightly irritating. Still all in all I listened to the entire book and am happy that I bought it.
"Over-detailed, with no engaging message"
If you are looking to get a critical, deep and informed view of american economy in last century, you should look for another book. This book is not the type that will leave you with any food for thought.
For instance the book goes literally pages and pages throwing an absurd amount of numbers, dates, percentages,... to just show how AC units become smaller and lighter in a period of two decades. A simple fact like this needs only one sentence or two, and then the reader is ready to get the writers message, if there is any. What happens with this book is that reader (listener) goes on and on trying to focus on long paragraphs of chart description and numbers and dates, waiting for the writer to sum it up and get to a conclusion, a view point or a critical thought on the issue, only to get disappointed.
The only message that the author has (and he iterates it over and over in different chapters) is this: The growth (in other words improvement in people's lives) has been huge in 20th century because the departure point was near zero, so any increase felt huge, but now that we are fairly advanced it is almost impossible to come up with such growth ( such improvement in people's lives) in such a short amount of time. For example, in a matter of 2 decades in early 1900s, flush toilets came to nearly all houses and that dramatically improved life expectancy (say 5 years) by eliminating water borne diseases. But now in 2000s if we want to increase life expectancy by same 5 years (having same "growth") it is not as easy as making a toilet, now we have to do cancer research instead.
I basically doubt if this is an important or valuable point of view anyways, but even if it was, it could be well developed in a 3 page article and did not need a 700+ page book.
This book is only good for you if you love details of how people lived in early 20th century, how daily tasks were done, how people worked, what the wore, what they ate...and so forth. but if you are looking for food for thought, you will be disappointed.
"good book. OK audio book."
love economics and hearing about how the world has changed in the past 100 years. this book does rely on lots of charts and graphs so the listener is often lost following along but over all worth a listen.
Gordon does a masterful job in presenting extreme complexity without simplification. He makes a case for the one time growth window of 1870-1970 and, in almost sheer poetry, cites everything from haircuts to train tickets demonstrating the forces of productivity.
"Indoor toilets good, child labor bad"
The author had me at indoor toilets. Our standard and quality of life have gotten better since 1870. Any improvement to the quality of today's toilets dwarfs in comparison to the initial move from the privy to today's homes with running water and our other standard utilities. As the author quoted someone saying, "the best thing is to have God in your heart, the next best thing is to have electricity in your home".
I don't think there was one trend or quality of life improvement that the author spoke about for which I didn't already know most of the details. That made for a tedious book in so far as those familiar stories were being retold for me. The telegraph, railroad, child labor, cars replacing horses, computers, telephone, fast food, radio, TV, cable TV and so on are all stories that have already been told. He puts all the stories together and gives graphs and charts in order to give context and support his narrative.
He makes a convincing argument that the rate of the rate of growth (the second derivative) is slowing down. That the statistics that we use to measure growth doesn't always capture our improvements in standard of living correctly. The current growth rate is slower in today's decade than in the recent decades. These are things that I already knew intuitively, but he shows it with numbers and reasonable interpretation of the data.
The author is very good at explaining what it all means and coming up with the right analogies. I appreciated those parts of the book, but unfortunately I had to wade through familiar stories to get to those gems. He makes the point that "progress without innovation is like stacking old wooden plows on top of wooden plows", meaning for standard of living to progress new things must be invented or discovered. The author was more pessimist about future growth then I would be, but that's just a matter of opinion because the future can always surprise.
I think the gems appear in this book when the author went beyond the narrative. He mentioned, for example, as he was talking about changes in our eating habits that manufacturing and the factory haven't disappeared in America, but that the fast food restaurant is what has replaced it. I thought that provided an interesting way of considering the phenomenon.
The author also wrote each chapter such that he would tell you why he's talking about the chapter, go into detail about the innovations, and then at the end of the chapter tell you why it was relevant to the overall book. That's a very good way to write a book.
The narrator did a great job. I recommend listening to this one instead of reading it for those who don't mind visualizing tables and graphs as their being presented because the narrator had an ability to make the dry tables and the narrative seem more interesting than a physical book would have.
"The TRUE American History."
This book reveals where the common man (species non-gender specific) developed as a result of the level of the tools invented/discovered to influence both the person and the environment. A real history of mankind as a species mastering it's environment. Statistics can be boring, but the fascinating speed which change has occurred is transcendent.
A true answer to "How we arrived at where we are today." Along with the anticipated soothsaying of the uncomfortable future.
"Essential book for understanding what is happening to the American standard of living."
The basic premise of this book, that most of the growth inducing innovations during the century were one time opportunities, is compelling. But if you have any background in economic or technology history, you will find the support for this fairly straightforward claim to be excessively long. The stories of technological advances are interesting but mostly familiar. The real punch of the book in my opinion was the argument that the structural capability of the US economy for growth has declined substantially. Breaking GDP per person into productivity (output per hour) times hours worked per year, provides some important insights.
Most important is that the rise of women in the workplace increased average hours worked per year, which offset lowered productivity growth.
Now that women are fully absorbed in the economy, low productivity growth is limiting the ability of the economy to increase output per person.
No amount of deficit spending, import taxation, or border control will change this. Our political leaders would do well to reflect on this fundamental issue. If they really understood it, they would be focusing less on short term manipulation and more on investments in education and other things that might actually affect productivity.
"Is TFP enough in measuring growth?"
Thoroughly enjoyable history of drivers of American productivity and an excellent complement to Capital. Gordon address the fact that total factor productivity growth doesn't capture the impact of all technological improvements in life. With the rise of AI, we may see total hours per person decline alongside tepid growth in TFP, yet consumption of leisure and satisfaction rise. Economists will debate whether guaranteed universal incomes can compensate for a future of declining TFP growth. What other metrics should we evaluate alongside TFP and hours worked and the CPI in evaluating our progress over the next century?
"Majesterial view of 100 years of US growth"
Experience how a typical household's standard of living would change over 100 years. You'll feel like you were there, in 1870, 1920, 1940, 1970 as the country went through vast changes in technology and the organization of society. No happy ending though!
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