Found 7 comments on HN
lkrubner · 2019-06-18 · Original thread
Lots of people make that argument, but when asked "What are we under counting?" no one's been able to come up with a story that remains consistent when applied to multiple industries. Computers got much, much faster, but everything else stagnated.

It's fairly easy to measure how much money is produced per employee. That number grew 3% to 4% a year for most of the 20th Century, till 1973, when it collapsed. Since then it's average 1.5% a year (again, with a few good years in the 1990s, and with some up and down wobbles during the Great Recession).

The central fact is the big push towards automation in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s simply had a bigger impact than the kind of breakthroughs we've had in the last 40 years.

The automation of the telephone systems, and the removal of all the women who worked as operators, was huge in the 1940s and 1950s (and a fantastic boost to the computer industry). The later boom in multiplexing made capital investments more profitable, but did not increase the amount of money made per employee.

The introduction of the modern combine tractors on USA farms lead to a fantastic increase in agricultural productivity in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, and nothing since then has had a similar effect on agricultural productivity.

The introduction of digging robots transformed the coal industry in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s. Mountain top clearance was another huge change in how the work was done. Nothing since the 1960s has had anything like a similar impact. In fact, the opposite is true, increased environmental protections have, if anything, decreased productivity in that sector, or at least slowed the increase.

And on and on.

The transformations in the early to mid 20th Century were huge. The more recent transformations have been small. The Great Boom gave way to the Great Stagnation.

Check out:

The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War

https://www.amazon.com/Rise-Fall-American-Growth-Princeton/d...

roymurdock · 2018-02-16 · Original thread
As a 25 YO male this is an issue near and dear to me. IMO it all comes back to slow TFP [1] (total factor productivity) growth.

New technology is not (on aggregate) making us more productive, or growing the economy to the point where we need young, college educated men and women to learn productive new skills to sustain and grow our communities and the collective state and country level economy.

I went into the embedded industry to learn more about the people and companies that make all the things we take for granted or never think about as kids - cars, planes, industrial PLCs, oil rigs, pacemakers, insulin pumps, ATMs. Modern chip production, and what people have built from tiny MCUs and DSPs all the way up to the crazy beefy CPUs, GPUs, and FPGAs is as close to magic as I've found in the real world.

But the industry of "global infrastructure" - transportation of people and goods, war, healthcare, manufacturing, resource extraction, retail - as a whole is stagnant. Especially when compared to the golden century we are just coming out of, when our standard of living in developed nations jumped up exponentially due to distributed electricity, indoor plumbing, modern appliances, transistors, data transmission technology, internal combustion engines, and advances in chemical and medical technology (much of this accelerated by research into war technology). Economist Robert Gordon has studied this in detail here [2].

Video games are definitely a way to feel productive, achieve well-defined goals, and get a sense of accomplishment or progression that is often lacking in the workplace. But IMO in many cases they are a symptom of a larger issue, not a cause.

There are many forms of escapism, video games are just one that my generation is more accustomed to having grown up and made friends through social interactions over video games alongside traditional things like sports, clubs, parties, etc.

The growing need for escapism is IMO the larger issue.

[1] In economics TFP is a variable that attempts to capture the effect of technology and infrastructure on the production function. Since these effects are much too complex and indirect to calculate explicitly (how many more widgets can a factory produce because of the roads that allow their workers to drive into work from the suburbs?) it is imputed as a residual. http://www.karlwhelan.com/Macro2/Notes9.pdf

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Rise-Fall-American-Growth-Princeton/d...

tedsanders · 2017-01-12 · Original thread
Potentially, but my take is that this is unlikely to explain the productivity puzzle.

I think your question is asking whether we are mismeasuring the value of dollars over time. And certainly there are worthy criticisms of inflation measurement, and good reasons to think that they overstate inflation as a result of undermeasuring quality improvements. But these flaws are not unique to recent history, so by themselves, they cannot explain why productivity growth has ostensibly slowed.

One way to sidestep the issue of statistical dollar measurement is to just read direct history of past time periods. Doing so has given me a much richer appreciation for the radical transformations caused by industrialization, urbanization, electrification, etc. A terrific article on this subject was published last year in the New York Times, comparing the years 1870, 1920, and 1970:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/upshot/what-was-the-great...

The article was inspired by Robert Gordon's lengthier book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, which followed a somewhat similar structure:

http://amzn.to/2jc6zkF

His descriptions of 1870 really made me appreciate how truly impoverished the average person was in those days. The rise in quality of life as electricity and automobiles and running water percolated through society over the next 50 years was radical, far more radical (in my view) than getting computers and the internet and phones, as monumental as those achievements have been.

Ultimately, it's impossible to objectively compare value across different situations. But my own semi-informed take is that productivity growth is indeed slowing.

tedsanders · 2017-01-12 · Original thread
Potentially, but my take is that this is unlikely to explain the productivity puzzle.

I think your question is asking whether we are mismeasuring the value of dollars over time. And certainly there are worthy criticisms of inflation measurement, and good reasons to think that they overstate inflation as a result of undermeasuring quality improvements. But these flaws are not unique to recent history, so by themselves, they cannot explain why productivity growth has ostensibly slowed.

One way to sidestep the issue of statistical dollar measurement is to just read direct history of past time periods. Doing so has given me a much richer appreciation for the radical transformations caused by industrialization, urbanization, electrification, etc. A terrific article on this subject was published last year in the New York Times, comparing the years 1870, 1920, and 1970:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/upshot/what-was-the-great...

The article was inspired by Robert Gordon's lengthier book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, which followed a somewhat similar structure:

http://amzn.to/2jc6zkF

His descriptions of 1870 really made me appreciate how truly impoverished the average person was in those days. The rise in quality of life as electricity and automobiles and running water percolated through society over the next 50 years was radical, far more radical (in my view) than getting computers and the internet and phones, as monumental as those achievements have been.

Ultimately, it's impossible to objectively compare value across different situations. But my own semi-informed take is that productivity growth is indeed slowing.

siavosh · 2016-12-12 · Original thread
My personal picks as I continue to try to understand global economic trends since the 1980's through the prism of the 2008-crash:

The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy by Yanis Varoufakis [1]

The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future By Stiglitz, Joseph E. [2]

The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon [3]

1. https://www.amazon.com/Global-Minotaur-America-Economic-Cont...

2. https://www.amazon.com/Price-Inequality-Divided-Society-Enda...

3. https://www.amazon.com/Rise-Fall-American-Growth-Princeton/d...

roymurdock · 2016-05-25 · Original thread
I'm reading two books right now. The Rise and Fall of American Growth [1] by Robert Gordon and The Grapes of Wrath [2] by John Steinbeck. They complement each other, and this post, very well.

I would recommend Gordon's book as an objective overview of the astonishing growth in economic and quality of life terms from 1870-1970. It's not as thoroughly researched as I expected it to be, and the prose is somewhat clunky, but it's a good lesson in the history of technology that we take for granted nonetheless.

Steinbeck's tale of the banks/landowners displacing poor, rural farming families is also extremely pertinent in light of this post. Car dealers extract value from the fleeing, unnecessariat farmers in "Grapes", while insurance companies/debtors prisons extract value from the unnecessariat rural poor chronicled in this post. The promised land of "Grapes" (California) continues to be successful today, with the coasts accreting a large portion of the nation's wealth. It's also just a beautifully written and thoroughly considered (to the point of seeming spontaneous) piece of art.

I am waiting for the next paradigm shifting technology with bated breath.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Fall-American-Growth-Princeton/dp...

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Grapes-Wrath-John-Steinbeck/dp/0143039...

lkrubner · 2016-03-07 · Original thread
The world economy slowed in 1973. No one really knows why. Some books focus on the effects in the USA, some focus elsewhere. In the West this has been "The Great Stagnation" whereas in several countries in Asia this has been "The Great Bounce Back" as formerly wealthy civilizations, such as China, recovered some of the ground they lost in the 1800s.

Sad to say, I'm not aware of any books that tell the whole international story.

For the USA, there have been an abundance of books and articles showing the decline of the middle class:

http://billmoyers.com/2015/01/26/middle-class/

Tyler Cowen came up with the phrase Great Stagnation:

http://www.amazon.com/Great-Stagnation-America-Low-Hanging-E...

Some writers treat this as a political issue:

http://www.amazon.com/Boiling-Point-Republicans-Middle-Class...

Some writers focus on long-term factors that have little to do with politics. Robert Gordon got good reviews for his historical analysis of the specialness of the 2nd Industrial Revolution 1860-1940, and why the current era is not as robust:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Rise-Fall-American-Growth/dp/06911...

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