Pushing Forward Economic Growth

Fraser Coast Chronicle (Hervey Bay, Australia), October 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

Pushing Forward Economic Growth


EVERYONE wants more economic growth. Growth means jobs, incomes and ever increasing living standards - and we are used to a growing economy. One of my favourite writers is English lord, Matt Ridley. He blogs on matters of technology, innovation and the environment.

Apart from his scepticism - I would say realism - about dangerous, man-made climate change, he argues mostly about the future, and regularly debunks the pessimism of those who think we are running out of resources and are therefore doomed. He believes in human innovation and technological progress and is optimistic we will find solutions to our challenges.

Yet is his optimism warranted? One of his assumptions is that our economies will keep growing on the back of innovation, and that this growth will allow us to tackle future problems. I generally share his optimism.

But some economists believe we have peaked. And the economic future they describe is not pretty. Robert Gordon is an American economist whose work I discovered at the National Bureau of Economic Research, courtesy of The Australian's economics editor and blogger Judith Sloan.

Gordon believes the big gains in productivity which drive economic growth are largely over. That's right. The thing that supports our standard of living - an expanding economy - might be running out of gas.

Gordon sees three periods of industrial revolution, of innovation.

The most recent, the internet and e-commerce revolution, has simply not delivered the big productivity dividend we thought it would. Certainly, the gains have not been as great as those of the previous revolution, which delivered indoor plumbing, electricity, communications, the growth of cities, and fast transport.

Then he talks about six daunting "headwinds" we are facing - including environmental regulations and taxes. It is the combination of barriers and the end of the innovation dividend that makes Gordon so pessimistic about our future prospects.

This is interesting stuff. And sobering. To put it in perspective, remember the talk of catastrophe from the previous Government in 2008 about going into recession.

The Rudd Government basically put our immediate future into hock to avoid a recession. …

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