"...But there’s a final explanation, the darkest of all. It has been put forward, most recently, in a monumental new book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” by Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern. Gordon’s theory, parts of which I recall him explaining to me over a lunch, in Chicago, some fifteen years ago, is that technological advancement just ain’t what it used to be.
To Gordon’s mind, things like the Internet and the smartphone, while they are undoubtedly marvellous products of human ingenuity, don’t match up to previous technological innovations, such as indoor plumbing, the internal-combustion engine, electrification, and commercial jetliners. In speeches, Gordon sometimes holds up pictures of a flushing toilet and an iPhone and asks audience members which one they would rather give up. “Look at what an ideal kitchen looked like in 1955,” he told the Wall Street Journal a few years ago. “It’s not that different than today. It’s nothing like moving from clotheslines to clothes dryers.”
If Gordon is right, sagging productivity figures simply reflect the fact that scientific progress doesn’t have as much impact on the economy as it once did. Rather than waiting for productivity growth and wages to rebound of their own accord, Gordon supports policies designed to expand the size and quality of the labor force, such as raising the retirement age, letting more immigrants into the country, and expanding access to higher education..."