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tv   QA with Robert Gordon  CSPAN  March 27, 2016 11:00pm-12:00am EDT

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this monday at 10:00 p.m. eastern. >> next, robert gordon, professor at northwest university of economics on q&a. then british prime minister david cameron takes questions. ♪ >> this week on "q&a," robert gordon, professor northwest university of economics. he discusses his book "the rise and fall of american growth", looking at the growth in the american standard of living between 1870-1970. and whether we will ever see anything like it again. ♪ brian: professor gordon, author of "the rise and fall of american growth." 750 pages of a lot of
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statistics. i read this, another problem is that we may be creating too much data. what do you mean by that? roberts: i did not mean -- creating too much data in the context of big data, and artificial intelligence. most of that is being used for marketing. most of the big data that is actually being used by corporations is to steal market share away from each other. that is not producing productivity or social benefits, it is just carving up a zero -sum pie. brian: when did you get the idea for this book? robert: the original idea of rapid even nine growth in the middle the 20th century, slower growth before and after, came about when i was graduating many years ago, when new work on the history of the american economy came up with some startling
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numbers. that is that the output, the total production of goods and services in the u.s. economy doubled between the 1920's in the 1950's. and yet, the amount of capital that was used to produce goods and services did not increase at all. that violated all that the economic growth rules that said that output and capital should rise together. i immediately started wondering, what was going on? in fact, i did my phd thesis in my 20's on, could we be measuring the capital wrong? daily get something wrong in the data? i found partial evidence that we had. but, that was the beginning of the idea. that there was just something special about u.s. economic growth, and the book explains that to the notion that there is
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a special century between 1870-1970 when we achieved growth through inventions that were so broad-based and cross the scope of human activity that we could never do it again, and we have never done a before. brian: what do you think is the most important invention back in those many days ago? robert: the great thing about this special century is you cannot play that game. you cannot single out one invention. we had electricity. which may possible elevators, for a dense, new york kind of city. portable machine tools. it made possible, floorstanding electric tools. it made possible, air-conditioning. and then we have the internal combustion engine. that was a possible, not just for automobiles, trucks, buses, but also, indirectly, made possible air transportation. and the complete elimination of time as a barrier that it used to be back in 1870. you cannot just stop with electricity and the internal
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combustion engine. we have the end of isolation with a telephone, radio, motion pictures, television, the complete change in the daily routine of housewives. who no longer had to carry pails of water into the house. they were able to turn the tap on running water. almost nothing among the single inventions is more important in its daily usefulness than running water. and together with that, at the same time, we developed waste disposal, so you no longer had to carry the dirty water out of the house. and then, think about health. in 1890, 22% of newborn babies died within the first year of birth. by 1950, that was down from 22% to 1%. so, i can choose a single invention. i have electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, health, take it altogether, it is more than just the effect of the computer. on modern society that we have enjoyed for the last 25 or 30 years.
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brian: your family, your parents were involved in economics in some way? robert: both my parents got phd's in economics from harvard in the 1930's. my father was very lucky. in the very depressed job market of the 1930's, that he was asked to teach summer school at berkeley. at the university of california in the summer of 1937. he did well enough so that he was asked back. he spent his entire career as a professor in the economics department at the university of california at berkeley, which certainly, for a substantial time during that interval, was one of the top five economic departments in the country. they had something in those days that was reflective of
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anti-female of dissemination. they were called nepotism laws. there is a rule that only one member of a family could be in each department. that meant that my mother, who had an equally good harvard phd could never be a professor in the economics department. that my father was. so, she played the dutiful role of the second in the family, and she had a number of positions and research organizations around the fringes of the university, but was never in the center of the university, as a full-time tenured faculty member as he was. brian: what about your brother? robert: funny thing you mention my brother. our family became someone notorious because of the connection with cambridge, massachusetts. as i mentioned, my parents both had phd from harvard, so did my brother who is younger. i was the black sheep of the family. i went down the river, and got my phd in economics from m.i.t. but, the whole idea of all four of us getting our phd's in economics, in cambridge, massachusetts, was sufficiently alluring to business week that they ran a story in 1973 called
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'the flying wallendas of economics." brian: what is the difference between the way you think about economics and say your brother? robert: my brother was a self-avowed radical marxist. my brother would make bernie sanders look tame. indeed, in the early 1970's, when my brother was in his late 20's, he did a book of readings in which he had introductions to the different parts of the readings. one was, the capitalist-big business vision. then the liberal vision. then the true vision. and it was almost like marxist cuba. in fact, he held that cuba as a paragon of how societies should develop. i think he tempered his ideas later, he came to see the failures of the soviet union and eastern european communism as an
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economic system. but i remember, i was washing dishes with him, and my parents home, in 1990, shortly after the fall of communism, and he sort of looked at me and cynically asked, well, i guess you are pretty happy about this fall of communism. as if he was not. brian: why and how are your views different than his? robert: he was a victim of the vietnam war. not in life and body, but rather in spirit. he was just enough younger than i was that while i was free from the vietnam draft, and could go to graduate school without any kind of compromises, he had to change his career ambitions in order to stay out of the vietnam draft, he did not want to be a conscientious objector and flee to canada.
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so, those were tough times for people in their early 20's. he became a radical protester against the u.s. government involvement in vietnam, very early on in 1964 and 1965. in retrospect, i was quiet and passive and did not have much to say about it. i admire him in retrospect. for being able to express his views. as a result, they colored his views of how economy should behave. he became very much anti-big business. anti-capitalism. very much, focused on how society can help those in poverty needing help. brian: how did your views differ if they did, with your parents? robert: my views were very
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similar to my parents. my parents were what i used to call a knee-jerk, new deal liberal. supporters of roosevelt, supporters of truman, i remember at age seven and 1947, when the taft-hartley act was passed by the republican congress that made it possible for states to become right to work states. denying unions the full ability to organize. i remember how much my father was incensed by that. and this is the beginning of the retreat from the new deal. i am very much supportive, liberal, progressive, what we now call progressive policies. i think, as i expressed in the postscript to the book, there are a number of policies that we should adopt that raise taxes on the very lucky people who are in the top 1%, of the income distribution, and i think we should have higher taxes on those who are making more than $1 million and more than $10 million per year.
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we should have a radical tax form that most tax credits and deductions that gives advantages to incentivize people, for instance, to have larger houses than they need through the mortgage interest of action. -- mortgage interest deduction. and so, i have a fairly progressive, middle-left-wing view of economic policy. i differ with senator sanders on several issues, while not overly supporting secretary clinton. in particular, i think it is simply too late for the united states to adopt a single-payer medical care system. we have had decades of medicare incentives to make our home medical system more expensive. we pay 18% of gdp on a medical care system. and for all of that, we get life expectancies that is about at the bottom of the top developed countries. and so, i think it is just
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simply too late. there is no way that you could destroy the entire private health insurance industry, no way that you could take over bloated health providers and hospitals and practices around the country and suddenly impose on them the kind of roles that in canada and the u.k., key medical care cost so much more moderate. brian: you say in the early part of your book that you had 15 research students to help you put this book together. robert: stretched over a good 10 years. brian: that's what i wanted to ask you. go back to the beginning of all of this, and what were your researching and you have strong views, did you make up your mind ahead of time, how the outcome of this book would be, or did you learn as you went on? robert: the book starts out in 1870, the first half covers 1870-1940.
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that is divided up into food, the basic necessities. a chapter on food and clothing. a chapter on housing. and the invention of electricity. and the end of the isolation of the house. in 1870, your standard dwelling was completely isolated from the rest of the world. by 1940, only 70 years later, almost every house in urban america was connected five different ways with electricity, gas, telephone, running water, and waste disposal. so, all of those things needed to be researched. the next chapter is on transportation and the gradual evolution away from the urban horse. electric streetcars. motorized buses.
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motor transport. all of the things that are made possible, like personal travel. motels. supermarkets. robert: i used an average of i would guess 40 different books, mainly those older time frames, books about individual topics. one of my favorite books was called "horses that work." another one was called "living conditions in victorian america." one of my favorite books was called "natures metropolis: chicago and the great west." the ways in which the chicago was intertwined with the prairie states in taking timber from wisconsin, turning into wood, and sending it out to make fences as for the prairies. the meat and the cattle would come back to the chicago
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stockyards and be sent on to the east coast. it was a stack of books. and the research assistants helped find the books, they stuck them full of post-its. with interesting passages, but i found that i pretty much ignored their post-its because the books were so fascinating. i would read and i would take them and i would start quoting them and paraphrasing them, and gradually, stitched together this intricate web. if anybody has a common reaction to books, it is the first half of it. it is really fascinating. most people tell me that they just do not have any idea of the level at which people lived. and one of my favorite quotes, which is in the book, and you
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know, it is still a mystery to me how i found this fabulous quote, but it is valid. that in 1885, the average north carolina housewife walked 140 miles a year carrying 35 tons of water. that invokes the hardship of being a housewife. all of that water that was carried into the house, because of a lack of faucets and running water, all of that water carried into the house for bathing, for other functions, for cooking, all of that had to be carried out. and to think of the backbreaking work that it was to be a housewife in those days. brian: how many years have you been at northwestern university and what have you taught? robert: i have been there since 1973, so up to about 43 years. and, in the first half of that time, i taught graduate, elementary macro economics. i'm not an economic historian by profession, so i have never taught economic history, even obviously i'm very interested in it. i have always taught elementary economics to freshman, i have taught intermediate economics to juniors. and sophomores.
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and, i have my favorite course, which delights, i think from the teaching evaluations i can say that -- a freshman seminar taught to 15 students on the topic, did economics when the two world wars. that of course, is economic history. it is about the role of economics in world war i, and world war ii. and one of the most fascinating topics to me, which comes alive in chapter 16 of the book. it is the role of world war ii and to a lesser extent, government policies in the great depression. for bringing about this ethical acceleration of u.s. economic growth in the middle the 20th century. brian: i want to come back then just a second, but how you characterize your findings in this book at the end, and if you are a young person in your
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class, somebody puts her hand up and says, professor, what is my life going to be like, how much changes are going to be, how much growth is there going to be compared to the years that you read about since the 1870's? robert: i would start by saying that roughly speaking, since 1870, each succeeding generation has achieved double the standard of living of their parents. that has been measured by gdp, measured output. of course the benefits of running water, the benefits of reduced infant mortality are not counted in gdp. so, the idea of doubling is actually an understatement. of the improvements that people have enjoyed. that has been true of every generation of until the last generation. the current young people, the so-called millennials, will be the first generation who fail on average to double their parents standard of living. and we are seeing the symptoms of this now, we are seeing a decline in marriage. we are seeing student debt.
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we are seeing a delay and household formation. we are seeing a delay in marriage. a delay in having children. and, the young people are struggling. 40% of u.s. college graduates are unable to find jobs that require a college education. 50% of those who complete law school, never did find a job that requires a law degree. we have this terrible situation. indebted, with student debt, baristas, taxi drivers, people in menial jobs, who have blighted their lifetime financial future through college debt. and somehow, we need to come up with a different system. in the book, i recommend repayment of college loans that are contingent on income.
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you only repaid to the extent that you benefit from your college education and get a job requiring a college education. that is called income contingent loan repayment. it is well-established in australia, well-established in britain. so if you are a young person, you came out of college, you had student debt, and you suffered from a spell that implement, you unemployment, youwould not be expected to repay any of your debt. during the time of an employment. or if you are a young person and you were attracted to a low-paying job in civil -- social service, helping people out, say nonprofit organization, you would repay less of your student loans because you would be only required to pay them in proportion to your income. brian: northwestern is an expensive school. as you stand in the classroom and look out at your students, and know this, how does it make
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you feel looking out there that half the students in the class may not be able to find a job that they have paid 60 grand a year? robert: the problem is not with northwestern and the elite schools like harvard, princeton, yale, more and more there making it possible for students to go through without substantial student debt, by giving them very generous scholarships. most of the elite schools have very large endowments. and they are investing their endowments in student aid, northwestern is just announcing a major program to further reduce the student burden of debt. the state universities, the smaller, less prominent private universities where the problem is. and the further you go down in the level of academic prestige, the more likely the students coming out are likely to find that they cannot locate a job requiring a college education. brian: what is your philosophy of teaching? robert: my philosophy of teaching is to bring together the real world with the abstract
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and dry, text material that shows them how to shift curves, and solve equations. in macroeconomics. probably alone, among my colleagues, i have put together course packets for both my intermediate and my principles of economics course, that contains clippings from the economist, from the wall street journal, from the new york times, showing in many cases, how ordinary people are caught in the impact of the overall economy. i have a wonderful wall street journal clipping from 2009 written at the absolute bottom of the recession, called "the smith family expenses the recession." is a classic example of how the textbook multiplier works. in terms of a real-life family chronicled by the wall street journal. the father loses his job, they
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are a lucky family, the mother keeps her job. and the end, the way that they adjust is that the father starts doing the childcare. and they take their children out of the childcare facility and like other parents, doing the same, the childcare facility has to lay people off. they stop going out to restaurants and the restaurant has to lay people off. it is a wonderful story that illustrates the impact of the multiplier, the dry, textbook concept. that is my way of dealing with the real world. in my freshman seminar, we just had our last class on monday. i showed them a series of videos from a bbc series called "the world at war" then in 1971. it should people coping with showed people coping
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with germany on the home front. in 1941-1945. inside the soviet union. and inside the united states. with rationing, with the shortage of rubber. with the incredible feats of production that were accomplished. so, it is the real world, and blending it together with the concepts that they have to learn to pass exams is my philosophy of teaching. brian: going back to the first part of this book, what was the first invention that really mattered to change people's lives? you talk about everything from electricity to telephone to railroads. robert: you need to go that way before the 19th century, two things like eyeglasses, which were enormously important. simple devices to measure, the printing presses often been called the most important invention of all time, by eliminating the need to hand transcribed documents. and bring information to a much broader audience.
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if we limit ourselves to the so-called industrial revolutions, the first industrial revolution where the inventions took place in the late 18th century, included the steam engine, and its offshoots, the railroads and the steam ships. together with that, cotton spinning, and the development of manufacturing. based on what essentially was mass production. cotton, fabric, and cotton thread. then we have the telegraph, which was in 1844, before the beginning of the book, which starts in 1870. we have already moved beyond the limitation of the speed of travel, before 1820, the speed of travel is limited by the
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hoof of the horses and the sale of the sailboat. we went on from the close to the railroad, from the sailboat to the steamships, and after 1870, we got this great span of inventions that i mentioned before. brian: how much of it -- and you have mentioned a lot of names in here including macy, montgomery ward, richard sears, and all these people -- how much of the progress is made because somebody was a leader? robert: what interests me is how many of the great inventions of the late 19th century were done by individuals working by themselves, not working for big corporations, there was in a way, a u-shaped history of innovation. with the role of individuals, very high at the beginning, thomas edison, alexander graham bell, george westinghouse, and all of the individual inventors, karl benz, the inventor of the first really workable internal
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combustion engine. and of course, the wright brothers with their airplane. these were all independent entrepreneurs, then we went into the 20th century and during most of the 20th century, we had a diminished role of individuals and an increased role of corporations. then, the individual came back in the late 19th century, and the late 20th century, with bill gates, microsoft, steve jobs, apple, mark zuckerberg, facebook. and we had a return of the role of the individual inventor. brian: what you think of the stock market? and what impact does that have on making money, building things, incentives, inventions? robert: the stock market is an essential tool to the modern economy. it allows people who have
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innovative ideas to obtain the funding to build the plants and equipment and put their ideas into fruition. the stock market is also a source of great wealth, and a source of some of the income inequality that we have between the top 1% and the rest of the people. we have had a shift starting in the 1990's in the way chief executive officers are compensated. much of their compensation now takes the form of stock options. where they are awarded if their stock price goes up. and this is helped to explain one of the reasons why american chief executive officers are so much more highly compensated than those in other countries. brian: is that good or bad? robert: i think there is very little that you can do about it, i don't want the government meddling in the rewards of chief executives.
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that, we do have the option of raising taxes to take back for society some of the good luck that these people have had. brian: i think you said in the book that there were 8 million horses in this country? robert: there were more than that. you mean at the turn-of-the-century? in the late 19th century. i think it is more than 27 million at some point. gradually, the need for horses was reduced, not just by automobiles and trucks, but by tractors. the need for horses on the farm, -- on the farm began to 1930's.radically in the
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it was not until the 1930's that they figured out how to make a rubber tire big enough to fit on a tractor. and starting in the 1930's and brian: you mentioned how the germans more affected -- more effective with the combustion engine. and that the americans invented almost everything else. in that first industrial revolution. what was it about the germans? robert: the germans have always been very good at mechanical engineering. they led the chemical industries, the invention of new chemicals in the late 19th century erie at --. i'm not sure that i have a great explanation of why some countries are better than others.
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why the french are better at food and perfume. then the germans are. the interesting thing is, the auto industry was really taken over by the americans. and it was partly to to the genius of henry ford and his invention of the assembly line. you know the price of a model t ford started out in 1908 at 900 $950 of the dollars of that time. and by 1923, it had fallen down to $265. imagine being able to buy a car for about 1/10 of annual income. you cannot buy car today for 1/10 annual average income. so, we had a genius at production. he happened to be in the united states. and we had of course, a very large country, with lots of rural roads. lots of farmers who were isolated. and, unlike electricity, which reached the farm late. after world war ii. the motor vehicle reach the farm very soon.
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among the first users of cars, before urban workers, were the farmers. who, of course, saw all of the benefits of being able to be in communication with the nearby small towns. brian: how are the roads changing from dirt to concrete or asphalt? robert: it changed in phases. we got the first basic paving of roads in the first two decades of the automobile and the time between 1900 and 1920. then the federal highway system started and we had the roads, old u.s. one, u.s. 99 on the west coast, u.s. 101, were numbered and built in the 1920's and 1930's. then, of course, we had the interstate highway system that was primarily built between the mid-1950's and the mid-1970's. brian: what about water mains and simple things -- not simple things, but important things
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like sewers? robert: they were not new inventions, of course. moving water had been around since the romans. and, what was new in the late 19th century was the dedication of individuals -- individual cities are putting the investment in. it was like the rest of society was creating wealth and creating income, and became rich enough so that cities can say, we will tax you to build water mains and sewage pipes. and that is not a new invention. but it is something that we can afford to do now. it is amazing how fast it all came together. between 1880-1940. brian: when was the electric refrigeration? robert: the first electrical for traders were invented around 1915. by 1940, roughly half of american households had an electrical fridge raider. before then they had an ice box. even the ice box was not invented until the 1880's.
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so, the ice box had a rain with the daily or periodic delivery of ice by the iceman. of only about 50 years between about 1880-1930. daily moved on to the electric refrigerator. and the washing machine was simultaneous with a refrigerator. by world war ii, by 1940, roughly half of the families in the united states had some form of washing machine, many of those had a ringer. rather than an automatic spending, dry cycle. brian: why do i remember early in my life, and iceman coming in having a big -- he picked up a big block of ice, what we do with that? robert: if you had a house like mine, there was a separate door in the back where the ice was inserted from the outside, without compromising the security of the house.
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the ice -- in a often an oftene then sat in elaborately carved wooden box, which was then cold enough to keep the preserved for is not the length of time we now use the refrigerator, at least for a substantial time. brian: wendy clothing chain? -- when did clothing change? robert: the big revolution clothing with that in 1870, women made their own clothing including that for their daughters. in fact, the typical week of a farm family would involve laundry on monday, hanging the closeout on tuesday, maybe baking on wednesday, and then, sewing and making clothing on thursday and friday. it was only after about 1920 that clothing became reasonable and cheap enough that people became well enough off to have the average woman go out and buy clothes, and i must say, two of the great inventions in the late
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19th century, which do not get enough attention, all they certainly do in the book, are the invention of the modern department store, with all of the variety of goods and services, provided at a reasonable price, and the montgomery ward catalogs, which made open the full panoply of american manufacturing to rural households and allowed them to buy things that previously they had to make or do without. brian: what role to the government have, 1870 on in fostering growth? robert: the government had an enormous role. first of all, the government allocated land for the railroads. and provided incentives for the railroads to build out in many cases, people think excessively, we had too many different lines running across the country from east to west. and the incentive was, land grants.
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the railroad companies were given the right to develop the land. for substantial number of miles around there. new lines that they built. we have freelancers to the homestead act of 1862. where people who wanted to go out and settle areas in the west that had previously not been settled, they were given free land by the government. the government set up agricultural research stations, the government-subsidized state universities. all the big state universities of the midwest, university of michigan, missouri, illinois, iowa, they were all made possible by land grants either from the federal government or the state governments in the late 19th century. brian: as you know, state governments used to spend a lot more money on state institutions of learning and education. now the numbers often down as low as 15%. why did that change? robert: it is a change in
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political philosophy, tightening up budgets, the state university has been one of the great american institutions that has achieved ethical increase. in college completion rates. we have had a general political turning away from governments, not only at the federal level, but at the state and local level so that we have had austerity. we have all heard about austerity being part of the reason why europe is a continued recession. but we have had her own brand of austerity both in the federal government since 2012, and in the state and local governments throughout the time since the recession. part of it is due to the fact that state governments cannot run deficits, they're forced to run a balanced budget. so when the revenues declined as a result of the great recession, they have cut back, but have not yet reinstated. brian: i smiled when i read about frozen food and a man
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. -- i smiled when i read about frozen food and a man named clarence birdeye because they grew up knowing about frozen food. who was he? robert: he was the menu at had a clever idea. we have its time. because he first managed to freeze food in 1916, but if you can imagine, early refrigerator, it was just a ice machine in the middle. the ice machine is not capable of maintaining a fair degree temperature. in the early postwar years, i did a study of appliances and it was not until about 1960 that your average refrigerator could reliably maintain a freezer temperature of zero degrees. i would say that mr. birdseye was about 40 years ahead of his time in terms of the feasibility of this invention changing everyday life. brian: what about the bathing tub? robert: that was one of those things that surprised a lot of people about how people lived back in the late 19th century.
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this is true not only on farms, but also in urban houses and apartments. the only source of heat, in many houses, with the open fireplace. today's -- you had an open tab that was movable, that you could move in and out of the kitchen. and there was no modesty. members of the family would very infrequently, surly not every day, get into the tub, water would be carried from the -- kettles warming the water over the fireplace and poured into the tub. to get the right temperature of water and then people would step into the tub. it was only after about 1910 where we began to have indoor bathrooms with bathtubs. and, only by 1940 did the majority of american houses come equipped with bathrooms. as well as running water. brian: what about the flush toilet?
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robert: same thing. in the late 19th century, you went out to the outhouse. there was running water and waste disposal which may together the indoor bathroom. -- that made possible the indoor bathroom. it was a package. the toilet and the bathtub came together at the same time, often being installed in houses as soon as they could get the running water that was essential for the operation of the whole thing. brian: what is the history of health care? robert: the history of health care is that it was extreme a primitive, hospitals were dirty. unsanitary places. we only had the invention of antiseptics to keep people clean in the 1880's. we only had anesthetics to get pain ofden the
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operations about the same time in the 1880's. so, we had a gradual professionalization of medical care, both hospitals and doctors. in the time between about 1870-1920. by the 1920's, we had pretty much gotten to a professional stage of medicine where people went to medical school. medical schools were quiet organizations. organizations in the late 19th century. and a man name -- ready famous report which dam to the education at existing medical schools and completely reform to the education of doctors and hospitals. brian: what was the peak of medical invention? do we expect much more? robert: medical invention, i would say reached its peak in the 1940's with the invention of penicillin. by 1970, we had identified smoking as a source of both cancer and heart disease.
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we had identified chemotherapy and radiation as cures for cancer. so, i would say that the court time for reaching the level of modern medicine is between about 1940-1980. we have been making very slow progress since then. the improvement of health was the curing of infectious diseases, with things like cleaning up the water. getting rid of diphtheria. and other kinds of infectious diseases. back in the 19th century. that was the key to puree infant -- to curing infant mortality. the conquest of infectious diseases. brian: do you teach this in class? robert: not yet. it may come. brian: what do you think the reaction of young people should be to these -- this history and the future, what you see? robert: i think young people are
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so weded to their smartphones and facebook and instagram and youtube, that their imaginations are not broad enough to realize how much they can take for granted. how much has been invented, to benefit the way that they behave in everyday life. every night when they put their smartphones and recharge them, they are beneficiaries of electricity. one thing that often interests people is the impact of superstorm sandy on the east coast. back in 2012. that wiped out the 20th century for many people. the elevators no longer worked in new york. the electricity stopped. you cannot charge her cell phone. you cannot pump gas into your car because it required electricity to pump the gas. so, the power of electricity and the internal combustion engine to make modern life possible is
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something that people take for granted. and i am not sure i can convince them that it is more important than the latest youtube video. brian: you have any thoughts about if you are just starting out in college today, what would be your best major? robert: joint major in economics and computer science. brian: why? robert: because i think the ability to program computers opens up a new world of possibilities of types of study that are no longer preventable. in the city of economics helps us understand the real world and its limitations. brian: in your book you talk about headwinds. and you list workforce, education, and equality. among other things. talk about headwinds. robert: much of what we have been discussing so far is the slowing pace of innovation, i am not saying that inventions are over, i'm not saying that
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technological changes are over, but the pace of it is more measured and it has been over the last century and a half. when i look out at the future, i project a growth rate of output per hour, productivity, at about 1.2% per year. it is a little less than the average of the last 40 years. leaving out the great revival of productivity growth that was temperate, that occurred in era of the late 1990's. productivity growth of 1.2%, that is not what the median person is going to be able to attain. and that is for two reasons. the first reason, the population is aging. as people move from working to retirement, the number of hours worked in society per member of the population obviously goes down.
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that means that output per person is going slower than out the per our productivity. so, my 1.2% growth in the future of productivity is diminished by the aging population. 0.8, the average out the person, but then we have inequality. over the last 30 years, about half of the gain income has been going to the top 1%. all of the rest of the bottom 99% is sharing the other half of the extra income. and that means, the growth available for the median, middle person in output per person, or income per person, is going to be another 0.4 did that day, so i went from 1.2 for productivity, 0.8 for average income per person, 0.4 for median income per person, and that does not even go with the fiscal headwinds which is the fact that the social security and medicare trust funds are running out of money. and they will have to either cut benefits or raise taxes. isn't this a happy conversation? aren't you glad you came together today with such an optimist? brian: how much a word about the
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-- how much are you worried debt?19 trillion robert: we always express the deficit, the debt, as a ratio to the gdp. we have an $18 trillion gdp and $19 trillion deficit. much of that held inside the government. in the social security trust fund, and a growing percentage of our debt is held by the federal reserve as a counterpart of its quantitative easing of the attempts to stimulate the economy. so, i'm not worried that the united states has too much debt. the rest of the world seems very eager to buy u.s. government bonds, and the minute the federal reserve shows any inclination of raising interest rates, money flows in from the rest of the world. so, we have considerable latitude, but you know, we do not have to worry about raising deficit to spend money on things like infrastructure, to repair our tainted water systems. our crumbling bridges and
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highways. we have the ability to that -- to put higher taxes on the very richest people, we have the ability to get rid of tax deductions and loopholes, and there's a lot of money that can be gained from tax reform to repair the american system. we have had political paralysis that has been a good three decades and we have had any substantial tax reform back in the 1980's. the deficit is the last of my worries. brian: what makes you the slightest bit optimistic that a future government will be able to change the tax code? robert: i am not in charge of being optimistic about political paralysis. like many economists, i am there to propose what is possible. if the political divide in the united states between the democrats and the republicans paralyzes decisive action, that is their fault. all we can do is point in the direction that they are supposed to follow.
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if they fail to follow, too bad. brian: have you ever been an advisor to president? robert: not directly. i have never been a member of the council of economic advisers. i have been on various government advisory committees, but not directly to the president. brian: to go back to your family. what was it like having for phd -- four phd's sitting around the table, all a member of the same family? did you ever try to outthink the other person? robert: of course, we can all have phd's until my brother got his in 1969 by which time i was almost 30. much more memorable, i think, where the ways in which economics influenced me and my brother at an earlier age. i remember once the 1963, and
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unemployment rate went up from 5.5% to 5.6%. we were not consider that very high, we would not consider that even a significant change now. my father actually winced when he heard that news. he was so sensitive to the level of an appointment rates. he was so out to help the poor and the disadvantaged. i think my brother and i picked that up. my brother took a much further in his leftward march toward marxism than i did. i think we both absorbed a lot. my parents deep feelings about politics. brian: what was the most eyed -- what did you learn that surprised you? robert: i loved writing about the horses. one of my favorite books, which i acknowledge in the preface to this book, is called "horses at work." it talks about how in 1872, an
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epidemic of horse influenza spread across the northeastern cities and brought life almost completely to a halt. most people would have thought that because the railroad had been invented by that time that somehow steam engines would have propelled people around the entire cities. but indeed, steam engines only moved railroads between terminals inter-city, not intra-city. we still had horse drawn buses, still had horse-drawn streetcars. as of 1872. and learning about that, also learning about the victorian houses. about the parlors. about the kitchens. about the servants. it was almost like revisiting an upstairs downstairs, or "downton abbey" to a lesser extent. that was my favorite part of the book to read.
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i loved criticizing jacob rees, the great muckraker who called attention to the horrible indignities of the new york tenants. -- the new york tenements. by looking at statistics, i was able to show that hardly anybody outside of new york lived in tournament situations like those that he was decrying. so, it is learning about the old days, and being able to write it up in a way that is compelling to people that was the greatest joy of writing the book. brian: why have you membership union haev u -- why have membership figures gone down? robert: partly it is politics. remember, we had the taft-hartley act in 1947, that made it possible for states to pass right to work laws. that eliminated the automatic nature of union recruitment. and we now have more than half of the states with right to work laws.
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so, the political system interfered in the ability of unions, the other main reason, the combination of automation and globalization. it is gradually eroding manufacturing jobs. manufacturing was the heartland's of immunization. -- of unionization. and we have had machines are placing workers. imports replacing domestic manufacturing. we have had outsourcing of plants to famous oreo cookie factory in chicago the donald trump to cries that they are moving production to mexico. those are good union jobs that are being destroyed in chicago. as we speak. brian: are you for or against these trade agreements? nafta and the pacific trade agreement? robert: well, deep in the blood of any card-carrying economist is a believe in free trade.
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but the effect of imports is clearly creating enormous number of social problems, especially in the rust belt with the decay of manufacturing and the elimination of good, blue-collar jobs. i am not sure what the solution to that is. because, even with tariffs and the elimination of free trade, there would still be a lot of imports. brian: the dedication of this book is to julie, who knows our love is here to stay. tell us about julie. robert: first of all, our love is here to stay is the last song that george grisham wrote in 1937, so there is a whole story to that. julie is a harvard phd in english, and other phd in our family, and she has had a lifetime of career in teaching,
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english literature, teaches film, -- brian: where? robert: at northwestern. and, even today, she runs a course in film adaptation, on top of that she is a very talented portrait artists. so she is off on monday to take her portrait our class, often with the model so impressed with her arts that the model comes over and takes pictures. and then on wednesday she is off to her film adaptation class where they see a film one week, read the book, and then talk about how the book was adapted into the films. and she has been doing that now for 12 consecutive semesters. brian: where did you meet her? robert: i met her through a harvard roommate who had dated her in high school. and, the roommate went out of town and i took over. [laughter]
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brian: are there children in the gordon family? robert: no, they are not children, that was our choice. brian: so, lots of phd's. mom and dad are not with us any longer. how about your brother? robert: unfortunately, my brother died of the disease to the heart muscle just when years ago next week. brian: how long will you keep teaching? robert: as long as i can walk. into the classroom. and as long as my voice holdout. brian: our guest is robert j. gordon, the name of the book is "the rise and fall of american growth". and we thank you very much. robert: delighted to be here. ♪
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announcer: four free transcript order, to about this program, at q-an programs are also available as c-span podcasts. announcer: if you enjoyed this week's qa and a interview with robert gordon, here are some other programs you might like. well thomas on changes in the telecommunications industry. andrew keen talks about his book , "the internet is not the answer." and stephen levy, his book, "the perfect thing." you can watch this anytime or search our entire video library at announcer: washington journal
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live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up monday morning, talk aboutker will the use of cyber technology by terrorists and counterterrorist experts and how facial recognition could deter future terrorist attacks. and discussing the cost of republican presidential candidates donald trump and ted cruz deportation program. these sure to watch c-span's washington journal beginning live at 7:00 a.m. eastern. join the discussion. this week'suring question time, david kamman answered questions on the budget, the economy, and combating terrorism. at the top of the session, the premise are also condemned the


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