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Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management

Stalled productivity, stagnant economy: Chronic stress amid impaired growth

Christopher Colford's picture

Call it “secular stagnation,” or the disappointing “New Mediocre,” or the baffling “New Normal” – or even the back-from-the-brink “contained depression.” Whatever label you put on today’s chronic economic doldrums, it’s clear that a slow-growth stall is afflicting many nation’s economies – and, seven years into a lackluster recovery from the global financial crisis, some fragile economies seem to be lapsing into another slump.

As policymakers struggle to find a plausible prescription for jump-starting growth, a tug-of-war is under way between techno-utopians and techno-dystopians. It’s a struggle between optimists who foresee a world of abundance thanks to innovations like robot-driven industries, and pessimists who anticipate a cash-deprived world where displaced ex-workers have few or no means of earning an income.

To add a bracing dose of academic rigor to the tech-focused tug-of-war, along comes a data-focused realist who adds a welcome if sobering historical perspective to the debate. Robert J. Gordon, a macroeconomist and economic historian at Northwestern University, takes a longue durée perspective of technology’s impact on growth, wealth and incomes.

Gordon’s blunt-spoken viewpoint has caused a sensation since his newest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” was launched at this winter’s meetings of the American Economic Association. His analysis injects a new urgency into policymakers’ debates about how (or even whether) today’s growth rate can be strengthened.

When Gordon speaks at the World Bank on Thursday, March 31 – at 11 a.m. in J B1-080, as part of the Macrofiscal Seminar Series – economy-watchers can look forward to hearing some ideas that challenge the orthodoxies of recent macroeconomic thinking. His topic – “Secular Stagnation on the Supply Side: Slow Growth in U. S. Productivity and Potential Output” – seems likely to spark some new thinking among techno-utopians and techo-dystopians alike.

To watch Gordon’s speech live via Webex – at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 31 – click here. To dial in to listen to the audio, dial (in the United States and Canada) 1-650-479-3207, using the passcode 735 669 472. For those telephoning from outside the United States and Canada, the appropriate numbers can be found on this page.

Terra Ranca! A fresh start for Guinea-Bissau

Marek Hanusch's picture

@ Daniella Van Leggelo Padilla, World Bank Group

As international donors gather this week in Brussels to mobilize resources for Guinea-Bissau, the government and people of this West African nation appear ready for a fresh start.

Rain and shine: Deliberations in Istanbul on the impact of oil prices

Ulrich Bartsch's picture
On a recent rainy Saturday in Istanbul, the mood was so gloomy that a roomful of macro-economists were at pains to admit that the sharp fall in the oil price since June 2014 would actually benefit a lot of people. On display was an impressive assortment of "two handed economists", who saw almost as many losers as winners. They cited negative effects on fiscal balances in oil exporting countries, investment declines because of uncertainty, and demand shortfalls in countries in which consumers are still deleveraging after the Global Crisis. In addition, the gains in many countries would be tempered by government interventions, which may reduce subsidies or raise taxes without translating fiscal space into higher spending.

Estimating the Economic Cost of Ebola

Mark Roland Thomas's picture
Recent news of declining numbers of new Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone suggest encouraging progress toward ending the epidemic. The human cost has been tragic and until we reach zero cases the threat to human lives remains the main risk and so the public health response must remain our focus. Yet, as Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone glimpse – we hope – light at the end of the tunnel, thoughts also need to turn to their needs for reconstruction and development.