Cafe Hayek

The Stagnation Thesis

There’s a rather strange debate in progress about Tyler Cowen’s new book, The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. I say “strange” because the debate seems to be about whether Americans (for the most part) are more prosperous, in real terms, now than in the early 1970s. The fact is that Americans (for the most part) are better off now, but not nearly as prosperous as they could be. The reason is that governmental interventions — spending and regulation — have stifled innovative activity by depriving it of funds, restricting its scope, and reducing its potential profitability. And it is innovative activity that drives economic growth.

Of the economist-bloggers I read, only Don Boudreaux seems to have cottoned to this fundamental fact. The others — including Cowen — seem to be arguing about trivialities and irrelevancies (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). The entire discussion, beginning with Cowen’s thesis, diverts the reader’s attention from government’s economic destructiveness to the (futile) search for a price index that properly accounts for temporal changes in the kinds and quality of products and services.

My assessments of government’s destructiveness are given in these posts:

Economic Growth since WWII
The Price of Government
The Commandeered Economy
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Rahn Curve at Work
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth

The last four decades, of which Cowen writes, are simply a continuation of a government-caused Mega-Depression, which began in the early 1900s. Here’s the bottom line: