The classic study of the “swirl of processes and events” that ended previous globalization episodes is the theme of Princeton Professor Harold James’ 2002 book, The End of Globalization: Lessons from the Great Depression.

Globalization” is here. Signified by an increasingly close economic interconnection that has led to profound political and social change worldwide, the process seems irreversible. In this book, however, Harold James provides a sobering historical perspective, exploring the circumstances in which the globally integrated world of an earlier era broke down under the pressure of unexpected events.

James examines one of the great historical nightmares of the twentieth century: the collapse of globalism in the Great Depression. Analyzing this collapse in terms of three main components of global economicscapital flows, trade and international migrationJames argues that it was not simply a consequence of the strains of World War I, but resulted from the interplay of resentments against all these elements of mobility, as well as from the policies and institutions designed to assuage the threats of globalism.

Could it happen again? There are significant parallels today: highly integrated systems are inherently vulnerable to collapse, and world financial markets are vulnerable and unstable.

While James does not foresee another Great Depression, his book provides a cautionary tale in which institutions meant to save the world from the consequences of globalization—think WTO and IMF, in our own time—ended by destroying both prosperity and peace.

Legitimate fears about “globalization reversal” have been well put by Zakaria:

Davos, Switzerland

President Trump’s speech here at the World Economic Forum went over relatively well. That’s partly because Davos is a conclave of business executives, and they like Trump’s pro-business message. But mostly, the president’s reception was a testament to the fact that he and what he represents are no longer unusual or exceptional. Look around the world and you will see: Trump and Trumpism have become normalized.

Davos was once the place where countries clamored to demonstrate their commitment to opening up their economies and societies. After all, these forces were producing global growth and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. Every year, a different nation would become the star of the forum, usually with a celebrated finance minister who was seen as the architect of a boom. The United States was the most energetic promoter of these twin ideas of economic openness and political freedom.

Today, Davos feels very different. Despite the fact that, throughout the world, growth remains solid and countries are moving ahead, the tenor of the times has changed. Where globalization was once the main topic, today it is the populist backlash to it. Where once there was a firm conviction about the way of the future, today there is uncertainty and unease.

This is not simply atmospherics and rhetoric. Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley Investment Management points out that since 2008, we have entered a phase of “deglobalization.” Global trade, which rose almost uninterruptedly since the 1970s, has stagnated, while capital flows have fallen. Net migration flows from poor countries to rich ones have also dropped. In 2018, net migration to the United States hit its lowest point in a decade.

The shift in approach can best be seen in the case of India. In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Davos to decry the fact that “many countries are becoming inward focused and globalization is shrinking.” Since then, his government has increased tariffs on hundreds of items and taken steps to shield India’s farmers, shopkeepers, digital companies and many others from the dangers of international competition. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative recently called out India for having the highest tariffs of any major economy in the world.

Indian officials used to aggressively court foreign investment, which was much needed to spur growth. Last week, with India’s economy slowing badly, Jeff Bezos announced a $1 billion investment in the country. (Bezos owns The Post.) But the minister of commerce and industry scoffed at the move, saying Amazon wasn’t “doing a great favor to India” and besides was probably engaging in anti-competitive, “predatory” practices. Often, protectionist policies help favored local producers. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently criticized some of Modi’s policies toward Muslims. The Indian government effectively cut off imports of Malaysian palm oil. In a familiar pattern, one of the chief beneficiaries was a local billionaire long associated with Modi.

The Economist notes that Europe, once one of the chief motors for openness in economics and politics, is also rediscovering state intervention to prop up domestic industries. And if you think the Internet is exempt from these tendencies, think again. The European Center for International Political Economy tracks the number of protectionist measures put in place to “localize” the digital economy in 64 countries. It has been surging for years, especially since 2008.

It’s important not to exaggerate the backlash to globalization.

As a 2019 report by DHL demonstrates, globalization is still strong and, by some measures, continues to expand. People still want to trade, travel and transact across the world. But in government policy, where economic logic once trumped politics, today it is often the reverse. Economist Nouriel Roubini argues that the cumulative result of all these measures — protecting local industries, subsidizing national champions, restricting immigration — is to sap growth. “It means slower growth, fewer jobs, less efficient economies,” he told me recently. We’ve seen it happen many times in the past, not least in India, which suffered decades of stagnation as a result of protectionist policies, and we will see the impact in years to come.

Nevertheless, today, nationalism and protectionism prevail.

This phase of deglobalization is being steered from the top. The world’s leading nations are, as always, the agenda-setters. The example of China, which has shielded some of its markets and still grown rapidly, has made a deep impression on much of the world. Probably deeper still is the example of the planet’s greatest champion of liberty and openness, the United States, which now has a president who calls for managed trade, more limited immigration and protectionist measures. At Davos, Trump invited every nation to follow his example. More and more are complying.

The world is de-globalizing. Trump set the example.The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria

Students should sense that while history does not repeat itself, it sometimes rhymes and this is a major danger. It also might imply that coping with climate change will be all the harder because American-led unilateralism everywhere would mean world policy paralysis.

Education and Spontaneous Learning

We give you examples of being receptive to the world around you and learning to see and hear as a form of education:

There is a show on PBS called Stories from the Stage. People come forward to a microphone on a stage and tell personal stories from their past, stories that they consider important, informative, educational (in the widest sense), and usable by the listener. One of the early “people at the mic” on stage is a teenage girl who says something, in a plaintive sorrowful voice, like: “I have been waiting far too long…to wait for someone…to see me.”

This perplexed girl is unwittingly raising the question of a deep human hunger: the hunger for “personhood.” At a young age, this primordial hunger expresses itself as somebody befriending me (i.e., the speaker needs a real friend) so that the befriended person comes into clearer focus to themselves, achieving personhood.

Very intelligent philosophers like Emmanuel Levinas of France have spent their entire lives trying to understand the connections between countenances (how a person “wears a face”), personhood, interactive life, etc.

In his book, The Face of the Other (the girl wants somebody to notice her and her face and like her and “smile upon her”) Levinas has a deep analysis of all these human yearnings and self-definitional journeys and quests:

“The Face of the Other” is an evocative phrase used by Emmanuel Levinas, an important twentieth-century philosopher.

  • “Other” (sometimes capitalized, sometimes not) usually translates the French word autrui, which means “the other person” or “someone else” (other than oneself). It is thus the personal other, the other person, whoever it is, that each of us encounters directly, or experiences the traces of, every day. Of course, we encounter a multiplicity of others, but Levinas more often uses the singular “other” to emphasize that we encounter others one at a time, face to face.
  • By “face,” Levinas means the human face (or in French, visage), but not thought of or experienced as a physical or aesthetic object. Rather, the first, usual, unreflective encounter with the face is the living presence of another person.

Thus, when we come “face to face” with another person, the experience is a social and ethical one (rather than intellectual, aesthetic, or merely physical). “Living presence,” for Levinas, would imply that the other person (as someone genuinely other than myself) is exposed to me—that is, is vulnerably present—and expresses him or herself simply by being there as an undeniable reality that I cannot reduce to images or ideas in my head.

This impossibility of capturing the other conceptually or otherwise reveals the other’s “infinity” (i.e., irreducibility to a finite [bounded] entity over which I can have power).

The other person is, of course, exposed and expressive in other ways than through the literal face (e.g., through speech, gesture, action, and bodily presence generally), but the face is the most exposed, most vulnerable, and most expressive aspect of the other’s presence.

Thus, a student could be channel surfing on TV, observe this young girl saying these things on Stories from the Stage, and expand one’s understanding of this entire set of hungers and self-identity efforts and go (say) from the moment of TV watching to reading Levinas.

This is a simple example from the current world of TV where a certain particular “cri de coeur” (French: “cry from the heart”) of a girl you don’t know at all could deepen and widen your understanding by following the thread to Levinas and other profound people. The girl’s plaint where she’s “waiting for someone to see me” becomes much deeper and can be understood on a larger canvas which is exactly what we want.

Many experiences from daily life, from walking around, from moments on TV, from tiny incidents, can be pathways to higher understanding and learning if you can see and hear “with the third eye and the third ear.” (Theodore Reik talks about “listening with the third ear.”)

Education is a kind of “applied awareness.”

Movies As Universities: The Case of So Ends Our Night

So Ends Our Night is a riveting and moving 1941 movie version of Erich Remarque’s classic novel Flotsam (English, GermanLiebe deinen Nächsten).

You may remember Remarque as the author of the international best-seller All Quiet on the Western Front, a big success in movie theatres of that time. Thomas Mann generally is considered the premier German writer of the twentieth century, and while that’s true in terms of prestige perhaps, Remarque is a more gripping German author.

Flotsam tells a great story about stateless refugees during the Nazi nightmare circa 1937. (One should immediately sense the resonance in our time with the millions of political and climate refugees, exiles, fugitives, and victim peoples like the Rohingya of Myanmar and the Uyghurs of Xinjiang, China, experiencing cultural genocide. We might extend this list to the Tutsis of Rwanda in 1994, the European Jews of World War II, and the Armenians of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire massacres. One could add the Chinese in Indonesia who experienced a genocidal pogrom in 1965. (Think of the movie, The Year of Living Dangerously with Mel Gibson.)

The movie So Ends Our Night, based on Remarque’s great work Flotsam, shows Fredric March and Glenn Ford playing supremely harried stateless refugees, hounded all through Europe, in a nightmare of life “without a country,” passport, visa, citizenship.

Glenn Ford is only half-Aryan and is in danger of being murdered by the Nazi crazies. Fredric March is not racially endangered, but as an opponent of Hitler’s regime and a dissenter could be murdered for that treason. Both are in a “having no passport” hell.

Between minutes 23 and 24 of this movie, March explains to Glenn Ford’s 19-year-old on the run like he is:

“Individuals or nations, it’s all the same, as long as they’re safe and comfortable they don’t give a hoot about what happens to anybody else.

There’s the misery of the world.

That’s why progress is so slow and things slip back so fast.”

With some reflection, you’ll probably see the deep point March makes about global history and “the way of the world” plainly expressed without camouflaging the truth.

You can learn quite a bit if you ponder this movie conversation, with both refugees sitting under a tree, harried and distressed, in a nightmarish emergency.

Thus, So Ends Our Night can be a movie-as-university for you and feed your meta intelligence.

Education and the Historical Swirl: Part II

We concluded Part I on this topic with the following comments which we wish students to incorporate into their educations, irrespective of the major, field or concentration:

The gold standard itself, dominated from London led to intricate problems: Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-1939 (published in 1992) by Barry Eichengreen, the leading historian of monetary systems, shows the downstream pitfalls of the gold standard.

In other words, the de facto emergence of Britain/London as the world commercial and policy center and the relation of this emergence to empire and international tensions and rivalries, means it is very problematical for any country to steer a course other than staying in tandem with British moods and ideologies, such as free trade. Any country by itself would find it difficult to have a more independent policy. (Friedrich List of Germany, who died in 1846, wrestles with these difficulties somewhat.) The attempts to find “autonomy and autarky” in the interwar years (Germany, Japan, Italy) led to worse nightmares. The world seems like a “no exit” arena of ideologies and rivalries.

The “crazy dynamics” and the semi-anarchy of the system, which continues to this day and is even worse, means that policy-making is always seen through a “dark windshield.”

History in the globalizing capitalist centuries, the nineteenth and the twentieth, is a kind of turbulent swirl and not a rational “walk.”

Here’s a bizarre but necessary comment on this sense of turbulent and surprising swirl propelling history forwards and backwards and sidewards at the same time:

The historian, Barry Eichengreen (mentioned above), is a distinguished analyst of world monetary systems at U.C. Berkeley and perhaps the leading expert today on the evolution of such systems.

From movies such as Shoah and Last of the Unjust by the great filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, we know that Barry Eichengreen’s mother was Lucille Eichengreen, a Jew born in Hamburg, Germany (1925) and deported to the Łódź Ghetto in Poland during World War II. She survived through many miraculous accidents and contingencies, then wrote about her experiences.

We get a deeper insight into “the way of the world” by seeing that the Holocaust itself has as a backdrop the anarcho-craziness of the world. The Fascists and Nazis were jumping from the “frying pan into the fire” by imagining that world conquest and world-murdering could “stop the world.” They and their favored populations could “get off” and step into a racial dreamworld. They were taking today’s concept of “gated community” and applying it to the “racial community” (Volksgemeinschaft, in German).

This led to the phenomenon depicted in Goya’s famous aquatint: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.

The perceived madness of the world and the madness of leaders that this perception leads to have never been analyzed together.

The fact that the behavior of world leaders could be “crazy like a fox” (half-insane, half-opportunistic, or Machiavellian “clever”) is a complicating factor or twist from Mussolini until today.

Education and Word and Number Hidden Vagueness

These mini-essays help students of any age to re-understand education in a deeper and more connected way.

They look for “circum-spective” intelligence. (Not in the sense of prudential or cautious but in the sense of “around-looking.”)

One of the things to begin to see is that explaining things in schools is misleading “ab initio” (i.e., from the beginning).

Let’s do an example:

In basic algebra, you’re asked: what happens to (x2 – 1)/(x – 1) as x “goes to” (i.e., becomes) 1.

If you look at the numerator (thing on top), x2 is also 1 (since 1 times 1 is 1) and (1 – 1) is zero. The denominator is also (1 – 1) and zero.

Thus you get 0 divided by 0.

You’re then told that’s a no-no and that’s because zeros and infinities lead to all kinds of arithmetic “bad behavior” or singularities.

You’re then supposed to see that x2 – 1 can be re-written as (x – 1)(x + 1) and since “like cancels like,” you cancel the x – 1 is the numerator and denominator and “get rid” of it.

This leaves simply x + 1. So, as x goes to 1, x + 1 goes to 2 and you have a “legitimate” answer and have bypassed the impasse of 0 acting badly (i.e., zero divided by zero).

If you re-understand all this more slowly you’ll see that there are endless potential confusions:

For example: you cannot say that (x2 – 1)/(x – 1) = x + 1 since looking at the two sides of the equal sign shows different expressions which are not equal.

They’re also not really equivalent.

You could say that coming up with x + 1 is a workaround or a “reduced form” or a “downstream rewrite” of (x2 – 1)/(x – 1).

This reminds us of the endless confusions in high school science: if you combine hydrogen gas (H2) with oxygen gas (O2) you don’t get water (H2O). Water is the result of a chemical reaction giving you a compound.

A mixture is not a compound. Chemistry is based on this distinction.

Math and science for that matter, are based on taking a formula or expression (like the one we saw above) and “de-cluttering” it or “shaking loose” a variant form which is not identical and not the same but functionally equivalent in a restricted way.

A lot of students who fail to follow high school or college science sense these and other “language and number” problems of hidden vagueness.
School courses punish students who “muse” to themselves about hidden vagueness. This behavior is pre-defined as “bad woolgathering” but we turn this upside down and claim it is potentially “good woolgathering” and might lead to enchantment which then underlies progress in getting past one’s fear of something like math or science or anything else.

One is surrounded by this layer of reality on all sides, what Wittgenstein calls “philosophy problems which are really language games.”

Think of daily life: you say to someone: “you can count one me.” You mean trust, rely on, depend on, where count on is a “set phrase.” (The origin of the phrase and how it became a set phrase is probably unknowable and lost in the mists of time.)

“You can count on me” does not mean you can stand on me and then count something…one, two, three.

In other words in all kinds of language (English, say, or math as a language) one is constantly “skating over” such logic-and-nuance-and-meaning issues.

The genius Kurt Gödel (Einstein’s walk around buddy at Princeton) saw this in a deep way and said that it’s deeply surprising that languages work at all (spoken, written or mathematical) since the bilateral sharing of these ambiguities would seem deadly to any clarity at all and communication itself would seem a rather unlikely outcome.

You could also say that drama giants of the twentieth century like Pinter, Ionesco and Beckett, intuit these difficulties which then underlie their plays.

All of this together gives you a more “composite” “circum-spective” view of what is really happening in knowledge acquisition.

Education and Pre-Understanding

To embark on an education in any field, physics, say, is enervating because the student (in high school) say, enters a strange ocean with “zillions” of names and laws, units of measurement (amps, ohms, coulombs, faradays, etc.) which are very intricate and confusing.

A student does start swimming in this ocean via school “coercion” (i.e., how one will be punished for “failing.”)

There’s a much deeper and useful and practical way to create a pathway into fields: looking for a pre-understanding of what the field is like by taking one particular question or “head-scratcher” and start to delve into it, welcoming any initial sense of not-being-sure, as part of the fun of it, the enchantment.

Consider this article from 2001 in Scientific American:

“Can somebody finally settle this question: Does water flowing down a drain spin in different directions depending on which hemisphere you’re in? And if so, why?” [Archived PDF]

If you start to worry about the water swirling down your kitchen sink or bathtub, you are inevitably faced with the puzzling discussions of something called Coriolis forces, named after the French scientist of this name:

“In physics, the Coriolis force is an inertial or fictitious force that acts on objects that are in motion within a frame of reference that rotates with respect to an inertial frame. In a reference frame with clockwise rotation, the force acts to the left of the motion of the object. In one with anticlockwise (or counterclockwise) rotation, the force acts to the right. Deflection of an object due to the Coriolis force is called the Coriolis effect. Though recognized previously by others, the mathematical expression for the Coriolis force appeared in an 1835 paper by French scientist Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis, in connection with the theory of water wheels. Early in the 20th century, the term Coriolis force began to be used in connection with meteorology.”

The Coriolis force is called a pseudo-force or fictitious force which is already quite puzzling. It seems to push an ant walking across a 78 RPM record in motion on the turntable in unexpected ways and affects the swirling motions of storm phenomena (hurricanes, cyclones, etc.).

The student would immediately sense that at the heart of physics—using this Coriolis force as an indicator—there’s an unbelievable intricacy—but also the sense that these explanations (i.e., forces versus pseudo-forces) that are not entirely convincing and might well be overturned or re-done by someone with a deeper grasp of the problem, in the future. There’s an “ad hoc-ness” (i.e., the explanations and units and theories and proofs seem somehow “circular” or “tautological” in a way that eludes us, as we wait for a clearer theory).

A person walking across a moving merry-go-round or carousel and the complexity of the pushes and pulls experiences “shoves” that are unfamiliar and the water going down the drain in the bathtub awaits a better theory. There is a subfield called “turbulent flow” and that would need to be brought into it. Weather phenomena like tsunamis, cyclones, etc. are turbulences that are complex and our theories are both unbelievably intricate but perhaps subject to revision.

All of this might be an enchanting “gateway” into physics and would give the student a pre-understanding of physics’s “style of thinking and explaining.” In other words, to “parachute” into a field you need the parachute of some particular puzzling example which you use as a “private gateway” into the way people in that field think and act.

Just to go through the years of high school and college in an endless and mindless “slog” with the “failure gun” of coercion pointed at you, is a tremendously soul-destroying way to educate oneself. You have to “go underground” and find your own pre-understanding and its twin brother or clone, enchantment.

Education and Seeing the “Swirl” of History

The tempo and rhythm of world events and world history are not captured in the linear and bland books one reads in schools and colleges where the sense of the stormy forward turbulence of the world is not communicated. Here’s an example that does communicate this “crazy dynamics”:

The leading historian, James Joll, in his excellent Europe Since 1870: An International History talks about gold and the gold standard in this way:

“The world supply of gold was diminishing, as the effects of the gold rushes in California and Australia in the 1850s and 1860s passed. This coincided with the decision in the 1870s of many of the leading countries to follow Britain’s example to use gold rather than silver as the basis of their currencyGermany in 1871, France in 1876 for example — so that the demand for gold rose just as the supply was temporarily declining. This in turn led to some doubt about the use of a gold standard and to much discussion about ‘bi-metallism’ and about the possibility of restoring silver to its place as the metal on which the world’s currency should be based, though this movement had more success in the United States than in Europe, where gold has now established itself firmly. By the 1890s however the discovery of new gold deposits in South Africa, Western Australia and Canada put an end to these discussions and uncertainties, as far as currency was concerned, for some fifty years.”

(James Joll, Europe Since 1870: An International History, Penguin Books, 1976, page 35)

These twists and turns and accidents or contingencies don’t communicate the real semi-turmoil surrounding all the decisions, which we can infer from the comment by a German politician in 1871, “We chose gold, not because gold was gold, but because Britain was Britain.” (Ian Patrick Austin, Common Foundations of American and East Asian Modernisation: From Alexander Hamilton to Junichero Koizumi, Select Publishing, 2009, page 99.)

Professor Joll delineates the emergent primacy of England:

“The establishment of London as the most important center in the world for shipping, banking, insurance-broking and buying and selling generally, as well as the growth of British industry, had been based on a policy of free trade.”

(James Joll, Europe Since 1870: An International History, Penguin Books, 1976, page 34)

The gold standard itself, dominated from London led to intricate problems: Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-1939 (published in 1992) by Barry Eichengreen, the leading historian of monetary systems, shows the downstream pitfalls of the gold standard.

In other words, the de facto emergence of Britain/London as the world commercial and policy center and the relation of this emergence to empire and international tensions and rivalries, means it is very problematical for any country to steer a course other than staying in tandem with British moods and ideologies, such as free trade. Any country by itself would find it difficult to have a more independent policy. (Friedrich List of Germany, who died in 1846, wrestles with these difficulties somewhat.) The attempts to find “autonomy and autarky” in the interwar years (Germany, Japan, Italy) led to worse nightmares. The world seems like a “no exit” arena of ideologies and rivalries.

The “crazy dynamics” and the semi-anarchy of the system, which continues to this day and is even worse, means that policy-making is always seen through a “dark windshield.”

History in the globalizing capitalist centuries, the nineteenth and the twentieth, is a kind of turbulent swirl and not a rational “walk.”

Looking Backwards and Forwards at the Same Time

Janus and Bi-Directional Smarts

The Roman god Janus looks backwards and forwards at the same time and learning to be somewhat Janus-like is very conducive in the metaintelligence (i.e., larger overview) quest.

There’s a useful French phrase, “reculer pour mieux sauter” which means like a high jumper, you have to take steps backwards to jump higher. In other words, learn to look bi-directionally at the world.

First look back, then forward.

Here’s a concrete example:

W. Arthur Lewis, the “father” of development economics, originally from the Caribbean, taught at Princeton. He won the Nobel in 1979 and wrote various classics such as Growth and Fluctuations, 1870-1913 (1978).

Lewis writes:

In this book we shall not be attempting to give formal or complete explanations of why fluctuations occurred. Like the captain of a ship navigating in stormy seas, we shall need to identify the waves, without needing an exhaustive theory of what causes waves.

When analyzing these fluctuations economists have identified four different cycles, distinguished by length of periodicity, each of which is named after the economist who first wrote about it:

the Kitchin (about three years)
the Juglar (about nine years)
the Kuznets (about twenty years)
the Kondratiev (about fifty years)

(W. Arthur Lewis, Growth and Fluctuations, 1870-1913, 1978, page 19)

Lewis gives us a quick overview of how we got to the era covered by his book:

“The essence of the industrial and agricultural revolutions in the first three quarters of the nineteenth century was in new ways of doing old things—of making iron, textiles and clothes, of growing cereals, and of transporting goods and services. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century the revolution added a new twist—that of making new commodities: telephones, gramophones, typewriters, cameras, automobiles and so on, a seemingly endless process whose twentieth century additions include aeroplanes, radios, refrigerators, washing machines and pleasure boats.”

(Growth and Fluctuations, 1870-1913, page 29)

Professor Norman Stone in his masterpiece on WWI calls this late nineteenth century explosion of material change and inventions the greatest fast quantum leap in world history in transforming the world.

If one reads these lines with a “Janus mind” we wonder, looking forward from the Lewis book and its era:

  1. How does his catchy metaphor of waves in the ocean relate to fluctuations and cycles? When Ben Bernanke (Fed Chair) describes recent decades as “The Great Moderation” does he mean to imply that Lewis-type waves disappeared or got much smaller?
  2. Can computers and mobile phones really match cars and planes in profundity of impact? Or is it only the tremendous spread of mobile or smartphones in the Global South that can?

In fact, the recent economic history classic, Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth argues against the assumption of endless technical change as a growth accelerator or endless frontier:

In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television transformed households and workplaces. With medical advances, life expectancy between 1870 and 1970 grew from 45 to 72 years. Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis, The Rise and Fall of American Growth provides an in-depth account of this momentous era. But has that era of unprecedented growth come to an end?

Gordon challenges the view that economic growth can or will continue unabated, and he demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 can’t be repeated. He contends that the nation’s productivity growth, which has already slowed to a crawl, will be further held back by the vexing headwinds of rising inequality, stagnating education, an aging population, and the rising debt of college students and the federal government. Gordon warns that the younger generation may be the first in American history that fails to exceed their parents’ standard of living, and that rather than depend on the great advances of the past, we must find new solutions to overcome the challenges facing us.

A critical voice in the debates over economic stagnation, The Rise and Fall of American Growth is at once a tribute to a century of radical change and a harbinger of tougher times to come.

  1. Why does one not read of the four cycles mentioned by Lewis (i.e., Kitchin) and the rest listed above in today’s business and financial press? Has there been some great discontinuity?

If you apply a “Janus mind” to the past (described by Lewis) and our sense of the future (described by techno-pessimists like Gordon) you get a more thoughtful sense of “the human prospect.”

Essay 103: “Nervous Breakdowns” for Countries or Regions?

Hannah Arendt who became world famous with her Eichmann in Jerusalem 1960s book, says in her essays that Europe in the twentieth century was determined by a kind of national “nervous breakdown” in and centered on Germany.

If we allow for the fact that this is a “façon de parler” (way of expressing something) and not a rigorous comparison (a country is not one person writ large) Arendt’s figure of speech is suggestive and evocative.

Here’s an example. In 1919, Walter Gropius (died in 1969) gave a speech to students of his “Bauhaus” school, which sounds like a person picking up on a kind of national nervous breakdown:

First of all, Walter Adolph Georg Gropius was a German architect and founder of the Bauhaus School, who, along with Alvar Aalto, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modernist architecture. He is a founder of Bauhaus in Weimar.

Gropius says (July 1919, speech to Bauhaus students):

“We find ourselves in a tremendous catastrophe of world history, a transformation of the whole of life and the whole of inner man.
We now have to forget the time before the war, which was totally different.

The more quickly we adapt to the new changed world, to its new, if austere beauties, the sooner the individual will be able to find his subjective happiness.
We will be more spiritual and profound as a result of the German distress.
As the economic opportunities sink, the spiritual ones have already risen enormously.”

(quoted in German Expressionism, University of California Press, 1990, edited by Rose-Carol Washton Long, page 250, “July 1919 Gropius speech to Bauhaus students”).

We are reminded of Kierkegaard’s (died in 1855) anatomy of the kinds of human despair in his The Sickness unto Death.

The Gropius despair is a bit different because it mirrors a real or imagined German national catastrophe which is folded into a “catastrophe of world history.”

World War I and its aftermath loom as a kind of infinite “desolation row” for Gropius and we cannot judge what percentage of the despair is German and what percentage has to do with Gropius’s subjective state of mind.

In any case, we do have the sense of a “nervous breakdown” atmosphere, nationally and personally.

Might we also wonder if Anglo-America is flirting with such a “nervous breakdown” in 2019?