By Alexander J. Field Ph.D.
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Extra resources for A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth
The economic and productivity history of the twentieth century up through 1995 can thus be thought of as a tale of two transitions. The first involved the electrification and reconfiguration of the American factory, a development that had its roots in the 1880s but blossomed only in the 1920s, producing enormously high rates of TFP growth in manufacturing during that decade. TFP growth rates in manufacturing then trended generally downward for the remainder of the century. The second transition, involving the movement of goods, peaked later.
Finally, chapter 12 asks, in light of the experience of the 1930s, whether economic downturns may have a silver lining. An epilogue concludes. Before proceeding, however, we must ask, in regard to the argument developed in part I, how can we know these things? How can we judge the comparative technological progressivity of different epochs? Qualitative accounts of invention and innovation are obviously important, and they play a role in the story that unfolds. But a substantial part of the argument relies on inferences from quantitative data.
Potential output is not necessarily the same as GDP because actual output may fall below it. During a recession an output gap opens and, associated with it, increased involuntary unemployment. Capacity is sometimes called potential output, and sometimes, more technically, the non-accelerating inflation rate of output (or “natural” output), which has associated with it a non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (the NAIRU, or “natural” rate of unemployment). Because of the way capacity is defined, it is also possible, when the economy is experiencing sustained positive aggregate demand shocks, for output temporarily to exceed it.