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Noah Smith

Economic Growth Isn't Everything

Quality counts too, not just quantity.
Increasing satisfaction is tougher to come by than growth.

Increasing satisfaction is tougher to come by than growth.

Photographer: Morne de Klerk/Getty Images

When you say that the golden days of growth are over, expect to get lots of attention, especially if you're a prestigious economist. Robert Gordon, a professor at Northwestern University, has been going around for several years making exactly this case. He now has a book, "The Rise and Fall of American Growth," summarizing his argument in magisterial detail.

Gordon’s main thesis is that the low-hanging fruit of technology has, essentially, been picked. He argues that a small handful of Great Inventions -- electricity, the internal combustion engine and a few others -- propelled growth to dizzying speeds from about 1870 through 1970. But there are only so many big important ideas like this to be discovered.