Tyler Cowen on the lack of economic growth in Italy:

At the risk of sounding like a broken record player, we are not sufficiently thinking through what it means for an advanced society to have basically zero net economic growth for a ten to twenty year period.

It can’t be said often enough imho.

It’s tempting to think that all societies will eventually choose policies that promote productivity growth, starting with basics like rule of law and progressing to free, properly regulated markets where property rights are thoroughly respected. But often it appears more that the productive few are dragging the rest of the world, drunkenly staggering and protesting, into the light only despite their best attempts to wallow in the dank, dark miasma of corruption, superstition, and misguided notions of coercive fairness that permeate poor societies. It’s telling that the great economic story of the last decade is China’s clumsy, bellicose attempt to imitate free-market capitalism.

From the perspective of society at large, pro-growth policies are painful, and anti-growth policies are pleasurable. Many societies seem to reach an equilibrium where culture and standard of living are such that the desire for growth is smaller than the propensity to do things that inhibit growth, and then they only grow to the extent that productivity improvements bleed into them from vastly more productive societies (e.g., Intel microprocessors arriving in Saudi Arabia, which cannot even make its own drill bits).

Maybe we, the United States, have passed the peak of our productivity, and we’re now going to destroy more productivity with redistributive fairness, coerced diversity, zero-marginal-value increases in education spending, and environmental vaporware aimed at poorly substantiated problems than we gain from the work of entrepreneurs and researchers, such that future generations see a world little better than today’s.  Indeed, maybe the entire phenomenon of rapid gains in living standards of the past couple centuries were a one-off anomaly that mankind will never see again.  But I’m still holding out hope Kurzweil is right.