Instaread Summary of The Rise and Fall of American Growth The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon
In reading this summary, I was reminded of one of the supposedly most foolish suggestions ever made by a U. S. government official. The false quote was attributed to Commissioner of the US patent office Charles Holland Duell in 1899 and was “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” To a rough first approximation, that is the thesis of this book and the quote points out the fallacy of predicting innovative stagnation.
The prime historical point of the book by Gordon is that the years 1870-1970 were a time when human productivity skyrocketed. The development of megatrends such as a universal electrification, localized grids providing fresh water and sewage disposal, the understanding and treatment of disease and the creation of the internal combustion engine led to an unprecedented and now unachievable rise in productivity increase.
Gordon argues that while it is fast, the current pace of change is essentially restricted to small increases in productivity on the edges rather than any major breakthroughs. Therefore, we will never see such productivity gains again. Which is why my thoughts went to the incorrect quote from the patent official.
Even though I question the validity of Gordon’s main point, I found this summary to be superb. Reading it made the content of the book clear, after completing this summary I found myself with an urge to read the book, if for no other reason that to mentally argue with Gordon.
This book was made available for free for review purposes.