By Alexander J. Field Ph.D.
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Additional info for A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth
3 Gordon zeroed in more intensively on the mid-century chronology, but his interpretations pose challenges because his narrative (and numbers) have changed somewhat in his publications. In Gordon (2000b), however, he continued to emphasize, consonant with the Abramovitz/David view, that “In the United States, in comparison to Japan and Europe, a substantial part of the great leap in the level of multifactor productivity had already occurred by the end of World War II” (Gordon 2000b, p. 1). It was the data underlying what was then recent economic history that so surprised Robert Solow in his 1957 analysis, for which, in part, he received the Nobel Prize.
The second pillar of the story involves the organizational and technological transformation of transportation and distribution (wholesale and retail trade) made possible by street, highway, bridge, and tunnel construction. During the 1920s the expansion of car and truck production outpaced the modernization of the road network. S. route system would be located. These obstacles were largely resolved by November 1926, and if one looks at the data on street and highway improvements from then until the beginning of the Second World War, the effects of the Depression appear modest and short-lived, mostly affecting the years 1933, 1934, and 1935.
Continued road construction would not necessarily have avoided retardation; by the early 1970s, the low-hanging fruit had largely been harvested. Nevertheless, exhaustion of potential gains from such infrastructural investments does help us understand why productivity growth slowed after 1973. The economic and productivity history of the twentieth century up through 1995 can thus be thought of as a tale of two transitions. The first involved the electrification and reconfiguration of the American factory, a development that had its roots in the 1880s but blossomed only in the 1920s, producing enormously high rates of TFP growth in manufacturing during that decade.