The Most Technologically Progressive Decade of the Century [for the US] : 1929-1941

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June Zaccone

Mar 8, 2024, 1:29:44 PMMar 8
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Because of the Depression’s place in both the
popular and academic imagination, and the re-
peated and justifiable emphasis on output that
was not produced, income that was not earned,
and expenditure that did not take place, it will
seem startling to propose the following hypoth-
esis: the years 1929 –1941 were, in the aggre-
gate, the most technologically progressive of
any comparable period in U.S. economic history.1
The hypothesis entails two primary claims: that
during this period businesses and government
contractors implemented or adopted on a more
widespread basis a wide range of new technol-
ogies and practices, resulting in the highest rate
of measured peacetime peak-to-peak multifac-
tor productivity growth in the century, and sec-
ondly, that the Depression years produced
advances that replenished and expanded the lar-
der of unexploited or only partially exploited
techniques, thus providing the basis for much of
the labor and multifactor productivity improve-
ment of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The hypothesis does not imply that all of the
effects of the advances registered in the decade
were immediately felt in the productivity data,
nor, on the other hand, does it dismiss the sig-
nificance of larder-stocking during the 1920’s
and earlier, upon which measured advance
built. Rather, it draws our attention to the prob-
ability that progress in invention and innovation
in the 1930’s was significant, in ways not well
appreciated, both in facilitating the remarkable
U.S. economic performance before and during
World War II, and in establishing foundations
for the prosperity of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

June Zaccone
National Jobs for All Network
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