The Avis Economy – Can we end the recession simply by trying harder?
by Daniel Gross
What’s it going to take to get the economy out of its rut? Tax cuts, says the right. Public investments, says the left. Some of both, says the center. But after listening to a recent discussion about the recent and distant history of innovation and growth between White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers, former Fed chief Alan Greenspan, and Harold Evans, author of They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine, I began to think that tax cuts and stimulus spending may be secondary. If history is any guide, in order to get the economy back to the level of growth that we’d all like to see, we’re going to need a substantial boost in productivity. And prolonged periods of high growth have always been spurred by a game-changing megatrend that ultimately touched every segment of the economy: the steam engine, electricity, railroads, the availability of credit, the microchip, and most recently, the Internet, globalization, and cheap money. Finally, when you’re dealing with an economy the size of the United States, you need a pretty powerful lever to create meaningful growth. Having a boom in a few sectors likely won’t be enough.
So it looks like we’re in trouble. Right now, it’s difficult to sense the Next Big Thing. (Of course, that’s usually how it goes. Back in 1992, when the economy seemed mired in the mud, President-elect Clinton summoned the nation’s best economic minds to a summit in Little Rock, Ark. In the voluminous briefing papers prepared for the event, the words the Internet likely appeared rarely, if at all.)