Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Decline

Resisting Stagnation and the New Dark Age

There’s a lot of talk lately by Summers, Krugman, and others that we may be in a period of secular stagnation, in which the rate at which the economy grows in the wealthiest countries falls substantially and permanently. Observing this, some are quick to point to demography as the cause. If populations are not growing as swiftly as they once did, it would indeed make sense that growth rates would fall. Under this thinking, slower growth isn’t a problem, because per capita growth is theoretically still strong–the economy is growing slower in aggregate, but it’s growing at the same speed relative to the size of the population. The trouble is that on further investigation, the demographic explanation does not sufficiently account for what’s going on. Not only are growth rates slowing, but per capita growth rates are slowing, and have been slowing for a while, beginning far before the recent economic crisis. This throws Kurzweil’s theory of accelerating returns into doubt, and undermines the central precept underlying our capitalist society–that the labors of this generation today are meant to make the next generation’s lives go better. If stagnation is the way of the future, it’s a much more serious problem than we presently recognize, one that ultimately threatens not merely our dreams of better lives for ourselves, but the very stability of our civilization.

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The Many Defeats of the Schools

A friend of mine recently directed me to an obscure old piece from The Atlantic published in 1939, entitled “The Defeat of the Schools” by James L. Mursell. I find the piece fascinating in no small part because the critique it makes of American school systems is more or less synonymous with the modern critique.  All of which raises an interesting question–is the perceived decline in educational standards overestimated, or has it been going on for much longer than most people think?

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