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Vox recently published a story about the “scary” secular stagnation theory, tying it back to a presentation given by Alvin Hansen titled “Economic Progress and Declining Population Growth,” from the American Economic Review in March of 1939.

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What is secular stagnation, they ask?

For starters, it has nothing to do with secular versus religious. Instead, the term comes to us from a 1939 presentation given by Alvin Hansen titled “Economic Progress and Declining Population Growth.” In these tailing days of the Great Depression, Hansen was trying to draw a contrast between a cyclical period of slow growth and a structural transformation of the economy. Hansen believed that the world was not experiencing a down period during an up-and-down series of fluctuations. Instead, he said, “we are passing, so to speak, over a divide which separates the great era of growth and expansion of the nineteenth century” from a new era of much slower growth.

Matthew Yglesias goes on: “The Depression, in other words, was not a passing phenomenon but rather something that might last indefinitely.”

A scary theory, indeed.


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The American Economic Review, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar., 1939), pp. 1-15
American Economic Association