I’m responding to the posts by Arnold Kling and Bryan Kaplan critiquing Tyler’s The Great Stagnation. Let me just throw out some thoughts, from the perspective of someone who thinks that The Great Stagnation is a terrific book.
1. I agree wholeheartedly with Tyler that the current crisis is a supply-side rather than a demand-side problem. That explains why the economy has responded relatively weakly to demand-side intervention.
2. From my perspective, the innovation slowdown started in 1998 or 2000, rather than 1973–sorry, Tyler. The slowdown was mainly concentrated in the biosciences, reflected in statistics like a slowdown in new drug approvals, slow or no gains in death rates for many age groups, and low or negative productivity in healthcare (see David Cutler on this). This is a chart I ran in January 2010 (the 2007 death rate has been revised up a bit since then)–it shows a steady decline in the death rate for Americans aged 45-54 until the late 1990s.
(click to enlarge)
The innovation slowdown was also reflected in the slow job growth in innovative industries, and the sharp decline in real wages for young college graduates. (Young college grads, because they have no investment in legacy sectors, inevitably flock to the dynamic and innovative industries in the economy. If their real wages are falling, it’s because the innovative industries are few and far between).
3. The apparent productivity gains over the past ten years have been a statistical fluke caused in large part by the inability of our statistical system to cope with globalization, including: The lack of any direct price comparisons between imported and comparable domestic goods and services; systematic biases in the import price statistics (see Houseman et al, for example); and no tracking of knowledge capital flows. I’ve got several posts coming on this soon.
5. I’m of the view that we may be close to another wave of innovation, centered in the biosciences, that will drive growth and job creation over the medium run. If we want growth and rising living standards, we need to avoid adding on well-meaning regulations that drive up the cost of innovation.