La temporalité de la roissance

CAMBRIDGE – Robert Gordon de l’université Northwestern est un éminent économiste dont les travaux en macroéconomie et l’étude de la croissance économique sur le long terme lui ont valu la plus haute considération. Son dernier exercice de spéculation historique, qui pose la question de savoir si la croissance économique américaine touche à sa fin, a naturellement été très bien accueilli. Mais l’argumentaire de Gordon comporte un défaut évident – d’autant plus évident à l’examen détaillé de son analyse.

Gordon distingue trois révolutions industrielles (RI) qui ont soutenu la croissance économique et contribué à améliorer les niveaux de vie depuis le dix-huitième siècle : la RI #1 (« vapeur, chemin de fer ») couvre la période 1750-1830 ; la RI #2 (« électricité, moteur à combustion interne, eau courante, toilettes d’intérieur, communications, divertissement, produits chimiques, pétrole ») dont les inventions s’étalent de 1870 à 1900 ; et la RI #3 (« ordinateurs, internet, téléphonie mobile »), dans les années 1960. L’essentiel de cette analyse expose les différences d’impacts transformationnels entre la RI #1 et, surtout, la RI #2 en termes de PIB par habitant et de qualité de vie par rapport aux conséquences relativement insignifiantes de la RI #3.

Le point faible de cette analyse est l’horizon raccourci de la RI #3 déterminé par l’auteur, comme l’indiquent les quatre phrases suivantes :

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