In Which I Admit That I Fell Down on the Job with Respect to Dietz Vollrath's Book Proposal...

School of Athens

@dietzvollrath Dietz Vollrath "Just signed a contract for a book on the growth slowdown called "Optimal Stagnation", out in 2019. Feelin' good about that. And therefore ending my social media 'diet'..."

My Review of Dietz Vollrath's Proposal Yes, Professor Vollrath’s work is original. Yes, his scholarship is sound. His overall argument is, however, I think, substantially if not largely wrong: There is insufficient good reason to believe that the last decade’s slowdown in productivity growth, as reported by standard measures, is a reflection of our success in managing the process of economic growth.

I think the slowdown is more likely better judged as a failure. However, where and why we have failed to manage economic growth is a damn doubly difficult question. Professor Vollrath’s interpretation is a very intelligent and relatively plausible one. The growth economics community and literature would strongly benefit from its publication. Yes, this is an important work.

How broad will the book’s audience be? Professor Vollrath hopes for a relatively large one, extending well beyond researchers in economics departments active in studying economic growth. Never say never: I believed that Thomas Piketty was likely to sell 5000 copies worldwide—for I could not and cannot see more than 10,000 people worldwide with the background and interest to fully understand it. Go figure. Lightning may strike. If lightning does strike, the Vollrath book is well written and pitched at the right level to take advantage of the thunderbolt.

As for the chief competing books already written, I really cannot think of any. It is not a research article on economic growth. It is not a textbook. But it is also not an airplane book. It comes closest to reports issued by international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank. But it is significantly better written. We would have to live in a better world and this one for there to have “chief competing books“.

Again, the natural reference point is Thomas Piketty: what were the “chief books“ before he wrote Capital in the 21st-Century?

I do believe that the manuscript is about the right length for its essential content and purpose.

I do recommend publication, strongly. I, at least, am highly likely to assign pieces of it to about 200 of my students each year.

It is on the question of how the manuscript could be improved that I am and remain stuck. I had hoped to have genuinely useful and insightful things to say here, but I have not yet found time to do the concentrated thinking and empirical investigations that would be necessary for me to be able to tell Professor Vollrath anything he does not already know...