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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

Hardcover | 2016 | $39.95 | £29.95 | ISBN: 9780691147727
784 pp. | 6 x 9 | 60 line illus. 64 tables.
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Robert Gordon TED talk:
The death of innovation, the end of growth


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.

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.


"[An] authoritative examination of innovation through the ages."--Neil Irwin, New York Times

"[T]his is a book well worth reading--a magisterial combination of deep technological history, vivid portraits of daily life over the past six generations and careful economic analysis. . . . This book will challenge your views about the future; it will definitely transform how you see the past."--Paul Krugman, New York Times Book Review

"The biggest challenge for studies of long-run growth is measuring not income but prices. We have records of how much money people earned in 1870 and of the sales of goods and services. But how should we compare an 1870 dollar with a 2015 dollar? We are so used to using a standard Consumer Price Index inflation adjustment that we forget the reckless assumptions needed to compare currency values across a century-and-a-half divide. . . . [The Rise and Fall of American Growth] is full of wonder for the miraculous things that America has accomplished."--Edward Glaeser, Wall Street Journal

"Mr. Gordon uses exhaustive historic data to buttress his thesis."--Greg Ip, Wall Street Journal

"A masterful study to be read and reread by anyone interested in today’s political economy."--Kirkus

"[A]n essential read for anyone interested not only in US economic history but also American economic prospects . . . a tremendous achievement."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist

"Normally, these kinds of big-think books end with a whimper, as the author totally fails to identify solutions to the problem he is writing about. But Gordon's conclusion offers some admirably definitive policy advice."--Matthew Yglesias, Vox

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