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Economics

It's a Man vs. Machine Recovery

Companies have been buying technology instead of hiring, and Okun’s Law is broken

The U.S. produces almost one-quarter more goods and services today than it did in 1999, while using almost precisely the same number of workers. It’s as if $2.5 trillion worth of stuff—the equivalent of the entire U.S. economy circa 1958—materialized out of thin air.

Although businesses haven’t added many people, they’ve certainly bulked up on machines. Spending on equipment and software hit an all-time high in the third quarter of 2011. “Huge advances in technology have allowed businesses to do more with less,” vaporizing jobs for everyone from steelworkers to travel agents, President Barack Obama warned in December.