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

Author(s): Robert J. Gordon


A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 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.


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Long-listed for Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 2016.

Robert J. Gordon is the Stanley G. Harris Professor in the Social Sciences at Northwestern University. His books include Productivity Growth, Inflation, and Unemployment and Macroeconomics. Gordon was included in the 2013 Bloomberg list of the nation's most influential thinkers.

Preface ix 1. Introduction: The Ascent and Descent of Growth 1 PART I. 1870-1940--THE GREAT INVENTIONS CREATE A REVOLUTION INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE HOME 25 2. The Starting Point: Life and Work in 1870 27 3. What They Ate and Wore and Where They Bought It 62 4. The American Home: From Dark and Isolated to Bright and Networked 94 5. Motors Overtake Horses and Rail: Inventions and Incremental Improvements 129 6. From Telegraph to Talkies: Information, Communication, and Entertainment 172 7. Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Illness and Early Death 206 8. Working Conditions on the Job and at Home 247 9. Taking and Mitigating Risks: Consumer Credit, Insurance, and the Government 288 Entr'acte. The Midcentury Shift from Revolution to Evolution 319 PART II. 1940-2015--THE GOLDEN AGE AND THE EARLY WARNINGS OF SLOWER GROWTH 329 10. Fast Food, Synthetic Fibers, and Split-Level Subdivisions: The Slowing Transformation of Food, Clothing, and Housing 331 11. See the USA in Your Chevrolet or from a Plane Flying High Above 374 12. Entertainment and Communications from Milton Berle to the iPhone 409 13. Computers and the Internet from the Mainframe to Facebook 441 14. Antibiotics, CT Scans, and the Evolution of Health and Medicine 461 15. Work, Youth, and Retirement at Home and on the Job 498 Entr'acte. Toward an Understanding of Slower Growth 522 PART III. THE SOURCES OF FASTER AND SLOWER GROWTH 533 16. The Great Leap Forward from the 1920s to the 1950s: What Set of Miracles Created It? 535 17. Innovation: Can the Future Match the Great Inventions of the Past? 566 18. Inequality and the Other Headwinds: Long-Run American Economic Growth Slows to a Crawl 605 Postscript: America's Growth Achievement and the Path Ahead 641 Acknowledgments 653 Data Appendix 657 Notes 667 References 717 Credits 741 Index 745

General Fields

  • : 9780691147727
  • : Princeton University Press
  • : Princeton University Press
  • : January 2016
  • : 229mm X 152mm X 56mm
  • : United States
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Robert J. Gordon
  • : Hardback
  • : 330.97309
  • : 784
  • : 60 line illus. 64 tables.