The Great Stagnation: Evidence in “Back to the Future?”

At lunch yesterday, a friend said that he has been watching the Back to the Future movies with his children and commented on how much he missed in those when he watched them as a kid.

I had the same experience a while ago when I watched them with my kid. I was amazed at how the makers of the film captured the differences in the times. Things like how the desirable subdivision that was being built in 1985 in an open field on the outskirts of town had gone down hill by 2015. Or, how absurd it seemed, even to a brilliant scientist, that a b-list actor in 1955 could become president by 1985.

While we enjoyed those movies as kids, we hadn’t been around long enough to witness the changes through the decades and see how well that was captured.

However, one comment at lunch got me to thinking. One friend laughed about what the film makers thought 2015 would look like. It was a bit too futuristic.

Could this be evidence for Tyler Cowen’s Great Stagnation?

The movie makers did a great job of capturing differences between 1955 and 1985, even 1885 (gritty water and food with buck shot) and 1985. Those time periods had already happened, so that was easy. You just needed some folks who understood the changes and progress that had been made.

Those time periods happened mostly during the time that Cowen contends standards of living improved faster because there was a lot of “low hanging fruit.”

Now, consider the film makers in the 1980s trying to project what life would be like in 2015. The only template they had to guess was how much life had changed in the previous 30 – 100 years.

Could it be that they thought similar advances would be made? Could the fact that we don’t yet have hover boards be evidence that Cowen is correct and that growth stagnated in the 70s and haven’t yet recovered? Is anybody developing a hover board? If so, let me know.

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