A debate broke out in the blogosphere this week that’s perfectly timed for Monday’s topic (except they’re debating the opposite of our question, but that won’t stop us). The economist Larry Summers followed by Paul Krugman and then the whole public policy community, it seems, reignited the debate over just how screwed the U.S. economy is for the next decade or two, or longer. This discussion dovetails with a debate that’s been going on at least since the big crash in 2008: Is the age of strong U.S. economic dynamism and growth that leads to broadly-shared prosperity just over? Are we doomed to a long period of slow growth, high unemployment, rising inequality, and deteriorating conditions for the rest of our lives? Conservatives have been among the pessimists, too. I track this debate and it’s pretty grim.
But, I was thinking it wouldn’t be the first time the experts preached doom and gloom and been wrong. In, for example, the 1930s and 1970s all the hip people thought America’s economic miracle had come to the end of the road. They cited slow growth and permanent high unemployment, flat or falling wages, a sputtering pace of technical innovation, a broken financial system, and foreign competition. Today we could add a broken political system and a level of global competition earlier generations could scarcely have imagined. Oh, and climate change looms over all of this.
Still, our economy – and our society! – are highly adaptive, and we have risen from the ashes before. Can we do so again, or are the critics right this time?
On Monday I’ll open us up by explaining a little about what the experts are saying on all of this. It’s not complicated, really, and it’s as much about politics and business and science than obscure economics. Then I think we can have broad-based discussion of the causes of our present predicament and our future.
Discussion Questions –
- What drives innovation and growth and how is growth translated into widespread prosperity that includes regular Americans?
- What are the main schools of thought that argue that we’re entering a “great stagnation” or a period of falling prosperity for most Americans? What do they say the causes are?
- Are these factors “natural” to the 21st century economy, or are they within our control to change (i.e., have we done it to ourselves)?
- Are they too pessimistic? What are they leaving out? What about America’s cultural and social dynamism that few other countries have – isn’t this our greatest advantage of all?
- What could we do to change a grim future, or at least to help restart the American dream?
- Are we in a permanent slump? Recommended.
- Has innovation basically stopped?
- Will intelligent robots put the middle class out of work? Seriously, this is worth reading!.
- Was our prosperity in the 1950s-80s just a historical accident that cannot be replicated? Recommended.
- [UPDATE: There are many, many theories of why we might be entering an era of permanent slump, and I’ll go over them. One that never gets any attention is this one. Skim it.]
No, we’re not
- Innovation will be back, just like it always has been. Recommended.
- A 15-minute TED talk (video lecture) on how abundant the human future is.
- 31 charts on good news “that will restore your faith in humanity.”
NEXT WEEK: How will the Millennial generation change U.S. politics??