A comprehensive analysis of “one of the most fundamental questions about American economic history.”
Gordon (Social Sciences/Northwestern Univ.; Macroeconomics, 2008, etc.), a respected macroeconomist, provides a groundbreaking contribution to political economy. His emphasis is quite different from the familiar concerns of budget deficits and quarterly profits. He compares the growth of real wages, living standards, and innovations in technology over two periods: 1870 to 1940 and 1940 to 1970. The author identifies advances in lifestyles, and he establishes that New Deal labor policies, which caused real wages to rise faster than productivity, laid the foundation for “the Great Leap Forward” in the middle of the 20th century. The author also shows how horse-drawn streetcars and steam-powered trains expanded urban activities, and he examines how electrification and the internal combustion engine powered the Second Industrial Revolution. Gordon is primarily concerned with the quality of these successive improvements—which, he writes, “are missing from GDP altogether”—as well as the consumer price index, which tracks current sales and prices. “Our measure of capital input,” he writes, “is newly developed for this book and adjusts for the unusual aspects of investment behavior during the 1930s and 1940s.” The author uses his fresh methods to back his argument for the primary significance of the reforms that took place during the New Deal. These policies, many of which are now considered failures, are thus shown to have provided the groundwork for what was to come. This Great Leap Forward generated the momentum that continued into the 1970s. The book is not for general readers, but students and scholars in economics and American history will find within these pages much illuminating interpretation of a massive amount of data.
A masterful study to be read and reread by anyone interested in today's political economy.