The Past and Future of America's Economy: Long Waves of Innovation that Drive Cycles of Growth

Robert D. Atkinson February 28, 2005
February 28, 2005

The Past and Future of America’s Economy focuses on how periodic cycles of technological and economic change have fundamentally reordered the way we work, the organization of business and markets, and the role of government. It examines this process of change over the past 150 years and explores the responses of people and institutions. The book then analyzes today’s New Economy, including the new information technology system, and effects on markets, organizations, workers, and governance. Taking into account the historical record, the book discusses the shortcomings of prevailing liberal and conservative economic doctrines and lays out a new growth economics agenda aimed at maximizing the productivity and innovation-enhancing forces of the New Economy.

Read a more detailed summary of the book. (PDF)

Table of Contents


1. Introduction: A New Economy?
Is the New Economy a Flash In the Pan? – The Course Of Productivity Growth – Since it is a New Economy, What Should We Do About it?

2. Technological, Economic and Social Transformation
Technology And Economic Cycles – The Process Of Transformation and Consolidation – Periods In American Economic History

3. Economic Transformations From the 1840s To The 1990s
The Factory-Based Industrial Economy: the Early 1890s to the Early 1940s – The Corporate, Mass Production Economy: the Mid-1940s to the Mid-1970s – The Calm Before the Storm: the Triumph of the System At the End Of the 1960s – The Turbulent Transition to the New Economy: 1974 to 1994

4. Today’s Entrepreneurial, Knowledge-Based Economy
The New Technology System – Industrial And Occupational Change – The Rise Of Globalization – The New Organizational and Market Environment – Social, Political and Spatial Changes

5. The Key To Productivity Revival
The Productivity Boom Of the Old Economy – The Great Productivity Slowdown – The Productivity Paradox: “We See Computers Everywhere but in the Productivity Statistics” – Why Did Productivity Go Up In the 1990s? – IT’s Role in Driving Productivity Growth – The Contours Of the Emerging Digital Economy – Why Is Digital Transformation Taking So Long? – Sources Of Productivity Growth In the Next Economy

6. The New Economy And Its Discontents
Opposition To Past Transformations – Today’s Opponents To Growth and Change – The Politics Of Progress: Modernizers Vs. Preservationists


7. Legacy Economic Policy Frameworks
The Old Economy Policy System – The Liberal Faith In New Deal Economics – The Supply-Side Sidetrack – The Failure of the Left’s and the Right’s Economic Doctrines

8. Growth Economics For the New Economy
The Emerging Field Of Growth Economics

9. Implementing Growth Economics
Stimulate Technological Innovation – Foster Digital Transformation – Foster Higher Skills – Foster Entrepreneurial Innovation and Competition

10. Building A More Humane Economy
Creating More Humane Workplaces – Getting More Time for the Rest of Life – Creating Family-Friendly Capitalism – Creating Livable Communities – Are a Humane Economy and a Productive Economy in Conflict? – The Politics of Creating a Humane Economy


Selected Endorsements

“Rob Atkinson is one of our best analysts of how technology drives local and regional economies, and what to do to take advantage of technological change. In his new book, he fluently articulates the principles of a new ‘growth economics’ that is America’s best hope for a prosperous future leaving no one behind.”
- Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and author of Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End.

“Rob Atkinson has produced a powerful and far-reaching look at the underlying mechanism powering today’s New Economy. In particular, he shows how the U.S. is just at the beginning of an innovation wave which is not only boosting productivity, but transforming economic organization and economic policy as well. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the U.S economy got to where it is today, and how it can best get to a prosperous and humane future.”
- Dr. Michael Mandel, Chief Economist, Business Week and author of Rational Exuberance: Silencing the Enemies of Growth and Why the Future is Better than You Think.

“Rob Atkinson is one of the most creative thinkers about the American economy. In this fascinating book, he puts the “new economy” spurred by the digital revolution into the context of other historic transformations. By doing so, he shows how we can preserve the gains in productivity and implement policies that will keep the economy growing. Everyone concerned about our economic future should read this.”
- Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.

“I couldn’t agree more that the political party that comes closest to supporting humane growth economics should be the leader for the next 25 years. The book is a great vision for the future, and its scholarly but readable mix of history, technology, economics and politics is very persuasive. It’s the sort of stuff that should be taught in economics courses, but almost never is.”
- David Moschella, author of Customer-Driven IT: How Users Are Shaping Technology Industry Growth

“Any person concerned about the future of our economy should read this book. Atkinson offers terrific historical perspective as well as specific policy proposals that would give us the best chance for broad-based economic growth now and for generations to come. It should be mandatory reading for public policy makers.”
- Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA, and co-chair of the House New Democrat Coalition).