Monday, March 24, 2014

Did America Enjoy a "Trente Glorieuses"?

One recurrent point of reference in Thomas Piketty's fascinating Capital in the 21st Century is the "trente glorieuses," the  30 years between 1945 and 1975 when the French, to their own astonishment and that of everyone else, somehow restored, nay created for the first time, their functioning first-world economy.  Piketty treats it as a defining event in modern French life and I am in no position to gainsay him.  But then he says:
In North America, there is no nostalgia for the postwar period, quite simply because the Trente Glorieuses never existed there: per capita output grew at roughly the sme rate of 1,5-2 percent per year throughout the period 1820-2012.
Um.  Well, I'm not disposed to dispute him on data; let's assume he is right that growth in the US has been slow but steady since before forever.  But I'm not at all sure this is the only index upon which gloriousness may arise.   Employment, plus employment security, for example.  I think I've said before (too often?) that the period 1947-1973 in America counts as just about the only time in any country where a person of ordinary ability (I'm talking to you, little Homer Simpson) could hold down a job that would support a non-working spouse and 2.3 kids in a suburban ranch-style home with at least one car in the garage.  Call it vingt-six glorieuses, at least within its narrow limits.

I mean this, I should stress, as only a minor point: Piketty's is a fascinating account which I am taking deliberately at a slow pace, the better to assimilate its charms--a bit like one of those classic novels he likes so much to cite.  Minor, but still a point, and perhaps a caution that he still perhaps knows more about France than he does about the United States.

8 comments:

Jimbo said...

Piketty's history has been getting a lot of buzz but i think, while it may be good (I haven't read it and only heard about it today), it may possible not account for the hugely important sociological events in America and Europe, which happened a the same time but were very different. Specifically, Europe recovering from utter devastation and the USA building its modern middle class (until Reagan decided to bring it down).

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

I grabbed US annual RGDP (2009 chained $) 1929-2013 from FRED. With a few exceptions, annualized RGDP growth looks solidly in the 3-4% range, looking at 5 and 10 year moving averages. In 2013, annualized growth since 1929 is 3.27% in since 1947 is 3.23%.

A% = (Yn/Y0)^(1/n) - 1

I can send you the Excel spreadsheet if you want it.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

That's not per capita, though...

Buce said...

If I read him right, "output"=national /income/," not GDP. That is: GDP (1) net of depreciation and (2) +/- net income (received from)(paid on) foreign investments. See Kindle loc 810. Together, typically 90 percent of GDP," he says.

I haven't troubled to replicate your chart but it sounds plausible. DK if the adjustment would erase the discrepancy or not.

marcel said...

I am part of a reading group for this book that begins next week (we are all economists): the plan is to run through a chapter or 2 over lunch 1 day each week. I look forward to further comments, observations and criticisms on it that I can announce to the group as my own. Please do not disappoint.

Charles A said...

A Marxist review of Piketty's book is at
http://mltoday.com/professor-piketty-fights-orthodoxy-and-attacks-inequality

Buce said...

Thanks, Charles A. This also:

http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/021_01/12987

The New York Crank said...

Full employment, a chicken in every pot, a homeowner on every lot, a car in every garage, a college student possible in every family was too much! How could the rich know they were rich if their limos weren't surrounded by starving, ragged beggars with their hands out? The situation had to be fixed.

And so it was.

Yours most crankily,
The New York Crank