Here is a series of photos from 1962, 50 years ago (pretty similar to today I’d say). A similar photo essay from 50 years before that, 1912, would present a much bigger change. From 50 years before THAT, 1862, maybe not as much.
This was an econoblog meme a little while ago and Scott Sumner had the best explanation…
Many key products were first invented in the late 1800s or early 1900s (electric lights, home appliances, cars, airplanes, etc) and were widely adopted by about 1973. No matter how rich people get, they really don’t need 10 washing machines. One will usually do the job. So as consumer demand became saturated for many of these products, we had to push the technological frontier in different directions. And that has proved surprisingly difficult to do.
You can’t really make airplanes 10 times bigger than the 747, at least in a cost effective way. We went to the moon in 1969, but still don’t have much better propulsion technology. The Titanic was much bigger than earlier ships, but 1000 feet is long is long enough. The new ships are wider, but no one is building 3000 foot liners. Improvements in cars are now incremental.
There are physical limits to the mechanical innovations that transformed the world between the 1910s and the 1970s. And we hit them.
THAT’s what the great stagnation is to me. THAT’s why we’re in a debt crisis now. THAT’s why everyone is scratching their heads at the biggest IPO of 2012.