Robert J. Gordon

Stanley G. Harris Professor in the Social Sciences, Northwestern University

The era of U.S. growth is over.

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Biography

Bloomberg's Fifty Most Influential 2016

Robert J. Gordon is one of the world’s most influential economists. He has attracted worldwide attention from academics, print media, and the blogosphere by his controversial analysis predicting that future economic growth in the U. S. will be a mere fraction of its historic rate. He was selected for the Politico 50, those shaping the political debate in 2016 and on Bloomberg's Fifty Most Influential 2016 list. In 2013 he was selected one of Bloomberg’s Top 10 Most Influential Thinkers.

In his acclaimed and best-selling 2016 book, The Rise and fall of American Growth, Bob argues that the true driver of economic growth over the last century was a series of one-time inventions whose impact has come and passed. Electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals, petroleum — these created a wave of growth unmatched in human history. But they have had their effect: they have created all the U.S. growth they ever will. And the current wave of online and mobile innovations, by contrast, will never create the same sort of boom in growth that those more fundamental industrial innovations did.

What's more, the U.S. is facing six devastating factors that will slow any growth that could come from new innovations: demography, education, inequality, globalisation, energy/environment, and debt. Between the loss of life-changing innovation and the drag of these six "headwinds", U.S. growth could fall below 0.5 percent per year for decades.

This new research joins his earlier studies showing that conventional data greatly understate the welfare of Europe relative to the U.S.; why European productivity growth has lagged that of the U.S. since 1995; why U.S. income inequality has widened since 1975; and why unemployment increased so much relative to the behaviour of output in the 2008-09 U.S. recession.

Robert's books include Macroeconomics, twelfth edition, which has been translated into eight languages, and three scholarly books: The Measurement of Durable Goods Prices, The American Business Cycle, and The Economics of New Goods. His book of collected essays is Productivity Growth, Inflation, and Unemployment.

Robert J. Gordon is the Stanley G. Harris Professor in the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Northwestern University. He is a Fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association. He is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a member of the NBER’s Business Cycle Dating Committee, a Research Fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (London) and the Observatoire Français des Conjunctures Economiques (OFCE, Paris), and an economic adviser to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Books

The Rise and Fall of American Growth

The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War

Robert J. Gordon

A New York Times bestseller
Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2016 Shortlist

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 forty-five to seventy-two 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.

Princeton University Press (26 Jan. 2016)

Excerpt

The end of economic growth

Reviews

Will our children really not know economic growth?Prospect
G forceThe Economist
Is Innovation Over?Foreign Affairs
Why economic growth lagsThe Washington Post
America's Best Days May Be Behind ItThe New York Times
The Powers That Were — by Paul Krugman New York Times Sunday Book Review
Those Were the Days — by Edward Glaser The Wall Street Journal

Praise

"Every presidential candidate should be asked what policies he or she would offer to increase the pace of U.S. productivity growth and to narrow the widening gap between winners and losers in the economy. Bob Gordon’s list is a good place to start."
— David Wessel, WSJ.com’s Think Tank blog

"[W]hat may be the year's most important book on economics has already been published. . . . What Gordon has provided is not a rejection of technology but a sobering reminder of its limits."
— Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

"Robert Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth is an extraordinary work of economic scholarship. . . . Moreover, this is one of the rare economics books that is on the one hand deeply analytical . . . And on the other a pleasure to read. . . . [A] landmark work."
— Lawrence Summers, Prospect

"Ambitious. . . . The hefty tome, minutely detailed yet dauntingly broad in scope, offers a lively portrayal of the evolution of American living standards since the Civil War."
— Eduardo Porter, New York Times

"Two years ago a huge book on economics took the world by storm. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. . . became a surprise bestseller. . . . Robert Gordon’s tome on American economic growth stretches to 768 pages and its central message is arguably more important."
— David Smith, Sunday Times

"A landmark new book."
— Gavin Kelly, The Guardian

"Looking ahead, judging presidents by policies rather than outcomes may be all the more important. In a new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the economist Robert Gordon argues that we are in the midst of an era of meager technological change. Yes, we now have smartphones and Twitter, but previous generations introduced electric lighting, indoor plumbing and the internal combustion engine. In Mr. Gordon’s view, technological change is just not what it used to be, and we had better get used to slower growth in productivity and incomes."
— N. Gregory Mankiw, New York Times

"The Rise and Fall of American Growth is likely to be the most interesting and important economics book of the year. It provides a splendid analytic take on the potency of past economic growth, which transformed the world from the end of the nineteenth century onward. . . . Gordon’s book serves as a powerful reminder that the U.S. economy really has gone through a protracted slowdown and that this decline has been caused by the stagnation in technological progress."
— Tyler Cowen, Foreign Affairs

"[A]n important new book."
— Martin Ford, Huffington Post

"[A] lightning bolt of a new book."
— Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect

"So powerful and intriguing are the facts and arguments marshaled by Gordon that even informed critics who think he is wrong recommend that readers plow through his The Rise and Fall of American Growth, with its 60 graphics and 64 tables spread over more than 700 pages. You don’t need to be an economist to appreciate or understand the book. His thesis is straightforward."
— David Cay Johnston, Al Jazeera America.com

"[M]agesterial."
— Noah Smith, Bloomberg View

"What is novel about Gordon’s approach to this problem is that he doesn’t try to find political causes for our economic woes. . . . [E]xhaustive and sweeping in scope, and novel in its thinking about growth."
— Chris Matthews, Fortune.com

"[A] fascinating new book."
— Jeffrey Sachs, Boston Globe

"For all their differences, the presidential candidates share one defining characteristic: All of them are upbeat about the future (as long as they get elected.) In one of the most important books of recent years, Northwestern University economist Robert J. Gordon offers a radically different view. . . . Powerful and impressive. . . . [M]agisterial, data-filled."
— Cass Sunstein, Bloomberg View

"This is a tremendous, sobering piece of research, which does a lot to explain the febrile, nervous state of modern Western democracies."
— Marcus Tanner, The Independent

"A new book by economist Robert Gordon — The Rise and Fall of American Growth — is causing quite a stir."
City A.M.

"If he’s right, and one links this with growing income inequality, our would-be leaders will have difficulty in making the case for achieving the American dream through steady incremental progress achieved through collaboration and political compromise."
— Michael Hoffmann, Desert Sun

"Robert Gordon’s new book on productivity in the U.S. economy, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, is masterful. . . . Gordon skillfully lays out myriad information about the history and trends of productivity. One can learn a great deal."
— Edward Lotterman, St. Paul Pioneer Press

"[I]mpressive."
— Peter Martin, Sydney Morning Herald

"In his unsettling new book, Gordon, who teaches at Northwestern, weighs in on the role of technology in the U.S. over the past century-and-a-half. He does so forcefully, so forcefully, in fact, as to wipe the smiles off the faces of most techno-optimists, myself included."
— Peter A. Coclanis, Charlotte Observer

"[A] thoughtful new book."
— David D. Haynes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"[The Rise and Fall of American Growth] is this year’s equivalent to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century: an essential read for all economists, who are unanimously floored by its boldness and scope even if they don’t agree with its conclusions."
— Adam Davidson, New York Times Magazine

"Gordon makes a compelling case for why the era of fast growth in America ended around 1970 and will not return in the foreseeable future, if ever."
— Dick Meyer, DecodeDC

"Gordon argues that we are not going to get another surge soon and that there are several headwinds that are going to work against faster growth, including income inequality, education as a differentiator and not an equalizer, the debt overhang, and demography."
— John Mason, TheStreet.com

"[The Rise and Fall of American Growth] challenges every political claim, and every pundit’s remedy, regarding how to get the lackluster American economy to boom again in the decades ahead, as it once did a half-century or more ago. . . . [The book] represents the culmination of Gordon’s many years of investigation into this key economic question of our age, namely: ‘Why is it that the American economy has never been able to return to the happy boom years of our grandparents’ time?’ Why is it that, decade after decade, administration after administration, annualized productivity growth has only been about one-half to one-third that of the age of Truman and Eisenhower?"
— Paul Kennedy, Tribune Content Agency

"[M]asterful. . . . Gordon skillfully lays out information about the history and trends of productivity. One can learn a great deal. . . . The Rise and Fall of American Growth is a rare example of a work with solid economics that can be understood, and enjoyed, by nearly any lay person."
— Ed Lotterman, Idaho Statesman

"The story of our standard of living is a vital part of American history and is well told in this fascinating book. Gordon provides colorful details and striking statistics about how the way we live has changed, and he asks whether we will live happily ever after. His answer will surprise you and challenge conventional assumptions about the future of economic growth. This book is a landmark — there is nothing else like it."
— Robert Solow, Nobel Laureate in Economics

"A towering achievement that will utterly transform the debate on U.S. productivity and growth. Robert Gordon chronicles the stunning swiftness with which American lives have advanced since 1870, and raises profound questions about whether we have benefitted from one-offs that cannot be repeated. Combining eloquent description with forceful and clear economic analysis, Gordon’s voice is gripping and compelling. This is economic history at its best."
— Kenneth S. Rogoff, coauthor of This Time Is Different

"The Rise and Fall of American Growth is a tour de force with an immensely important bottom line. It is packed, page after page, with insights and facts that every reader will find fascinating and new. A profound book that also happens to be a marvelous read."
— George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics

"Keynes dismissed concerns about economic trends by remarking that in the long run, we are all dead. Gordon turns this upside down by reminding us that we inherited somebody else’s long run. If you care about the legacy we will leave future generations, read this richly detailed account of America’s amazing century of growth."
— Paul Romer, New York University

"Robert Gordon has written the book on wealth — how Americans made it and enjoyed it in the past. If we’re going to create more wealth in the future instead of arguing about dividing a shrinking pie, we have to read and understand this book."
— Peter Thiel, entrepreneur, investor, and author of Zero to One

"This book is as important as it is unsettling. Gordon makes a compelling case that the golden age of growth is over. Anyone concerned with our economic future needs to carefully consider his argument."
— Lawrence Summers, Harvard University

"In The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Gordon looks at the evolution of consumption and the standard of living in the United States from the end of the Civil War to the present day. His work brims with the enthusiasm of discovery and is enriched by personal anecdotes and insights derived over a long and very productive career."
— Alexander J. Field, Santa Clara University

"The Rise and Fall of American Growth makes use of economic history to argue that Americans should expect the rate of economic growth to be, on average, slower in the future than it has been in the recent past. Gordon is the most important exponent of the pessimistic view working today and this is an exceptional book."
— Louis Cain, Loyola University Chicago

Macroeconomics

12th Edition

Robert J. Gordon

Macroeconomics is widely praised for its ability to present theory as a way of evaluating key macro questions, such as why some countries are rich and others are poor.

Prentice Hall; 12 edition (22 Nov 2011)

Topics

Robert tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

The Rise and Fall of American Growth

Growth in American output (real GDP) roared ahead at 3.8 percent per year between 1947 and 1974, then slowed to 3.2 percent from 1974 to 2004, and since 2004 has dropped by half to a mere 1.6 percent per year. What caused this slowdown? Is the era of rapid growth over? The answers come from a comparison of the digital revolution with earlier waves of invention that brought us electricity, the internal combustion engine, and many others. Slow growth also reflects the “headwinds” of education, demography, and inequality that hold back the improvement in the standard of living of the average American.

The Productivity Puzzle and the Future of Innovation

America’s future is clouded by the abysmal 0.5 percent annual growth rate of labor productivity (output per hour) achieved since 2010. How can this sluggish performance be reconciled with the frenetic pace of innovation, ample venture capital investment, and the frequent birth of new billion-dollar “unicorn” companies? This puzzle is addressed by examining the achievements and limitations of robots, artificial intelligence, big data, 3-D printing, medical research, and self-driving vehicles.

Insights into the U.S. Economic Outlook

The economic outlook three to five years in the future hinges on the interplay between unemployment, inflation, and the response of monetary policy. The author’s own research provides new insights on the future behavior of the inflation rate, wage changes, and productivity growth. Attention is also given to the exchange rate of the dollar and the labor force participation rate. Consideration is given to risks in the outlook and their potential impact on the monetary policy response.

Videos

Economic Policy Challenges: Macroeconomics and Fiscal Policy

The death of innovation, the end of growth | TED

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