There’s a guy, a highly impressive guy, someone who is a Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University, who argues that the U.S. economic growth through our history has been exhausted.
His name is Tyler Cowen and he first came to attention when he was one of the youngest chess champions in New Jersey.
According to Cowen, the U.S. has eaten all the “low hanging fruit of modern history” and describes them as:
l) Cheap, or free, readily exploitable unused arable land.
2) Rapid invention from l880 through l940 that applied the scientific discoverings of the l8th and l9th centures; and
3) Large returns from educating children from previously unschooled families.
According to Cowen, the U.S. was a middle-class country from its beginning. We grew hay and grains and as a consequence, our incomes in colonial America were generally more equal than elsewhere and more equal than they are in the U.S. today.
However, the South had more wealth because it had plantation crops like tobacco, rice, cotton and sugar. In fact, our sugar crops used a higher number of slaves than any other crop. So incomes in the South in l774 were over four times higher than the top l% of those in New England.
There are those who will disagree with his premise that the ready available tracts of free land in the U.S. explains Americas’s earlier economic success but more the reason it started out as a middle-class society.
Oh boy, never thought of this concept before: according to these economic wizards that fact that having running water and household appliances gave women a one-time surge so we could be out in the workforce.
Because women no longer were hauling tons of water for our families it gave us economic growth.
We jumped from a home without plumbing, electricity or central heating and air-conditioning to homes that have all the above and are the standard, an importance that would be difficult (or impossible) to replicate at any imaginable level today.
Another dramatic leap is our improvement in life expectancy due to improved sanitation and better nutrition. It’s another reason for our plateau in prosperity which has been achieved by past advances and which is no longer being compounded or expanded in a linear way.
Other economists think along similar lines, especially about the achievement gains of U.S. students that are coming in at one half, or even one third, the pace of those in other countries. We’re 21st in reading, 31st in math, and 34th in science among 37 countries surveyed for economic achievement.
The inflation of education costs, reports another economist, “leads to mounting student debt, which is increasingly distorting career choices and deterring low-income people from going to college at all.”
To me, these are practical insights. There is a lot more to
explain. So, please return if you’re as fascinated by these premises as I am.