Are we in an Era of Stagnation? Likely not

Just going by the Youtube title, “An Era of Stagnation & Universal Institutional Failure” (the whole thing is 3 hours long and have not gotten around to watching it), I disagree that we are in an era of “stagnation and universal institutional failure.”

If stagnation and institutional failure exists, it’s much more evident in Europe and South America, such as the Yellow Vest protests in France or the economic collapse and dysfunctional leadership of Venezuela. Same for Turkey, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Russia, which are economically much more stagnant and weak and dysfunctional politically, compared to the US. The occasional campus protest or the latest political outrage over what Trump said gets inordinate coverage online and in the media, but the economic significance is nugatory, whereas in these smaller and weaker countries and economies, their civil and political unrest actually threatens their economies and are socially and economically destabilizing.

Since 2009, and especially since 2016 or so, after Trump won, the US economy has pulled way ahead of the rest of the developed world as measured by metrics such as economic growth, stock market gains, low inflation, innovation, corporate profits, and a strong dollar. America is stronger and more relevant than ever economically, technologically, militarily, and culturally, possibly even more so than in the decade following WW2, which some consider to the the high watermark of American society and cultural influence.

There’re tons of IPOs and start-ups from Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the past few years, such as Uber and Lyfts’ IPOs, as well as the recent IPO of the artificial meat company Beyond Meat. Amazon stock keeps going up and is dominating online retail. Even Walmart is doing better than ever, due to Americans having an abundance of purchasing power. All of this and more is evidence against stagnation even if GDP is not growing quite as fast is it was decades ago.

The high unemployment and stagflation of the ’70s and early ’80s could be considered an ‘era of stagnation,’ but fast-forward to today and CPI still refuses to budge beyond 2%, the US has among the highest inflation-adjusted GDP growth of all developed countries, and unemployment is hovering below 4%.

Political leaders may seem increasingly ineffective as evidenced by multi-decade low congressional ratings, an inability of Congress to pass legislation, and a political climate that is increasingly divisive online, but a weakened Washington means the private sector has more autonomy instead of being weighed by too much regulation.

Upon watching the video, I disagree that there is technological stagnation. Rather, we have not waited long enough. I think tech progress tends to be punctuated, meaning every few decades there is a paradigm shift, whether it’s the discovery of electromagnetism, special and general relativity, quantum mechanistic, chemotherapy, transistors, vaccines, the world wide web, genomics, etc. The next shift will probably be something to to with nano technology, a new energy source such as fusion power, AGI, or mind uploading. Physics may have stagnated, but that is because some of the most recent theories are mostly theoretical and cannot be tested, whereas old discoveries are more applicable and practical. Past discoveries tried to explain existing phenomena but the new theories try to explain things that hare much harder to observe, like how gravity and quantum theory interact at the sub-atomic level. String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity have no real-word applications. But I don’t see that as stagnation though. There are plenty of people working on more practical things too. It’s not like the best minds are either all in biology or all in physics. There\s new developments being made in the treatment of cancers such as chronic leukemia and melanoma.

Overall, Thiel and Weinstein need to get out of their bubbles, and maybe they will see that as bad and dysfunctional as America may seem, the rest of the world is objectively in much worse shape. When you’re constantly battling intellectually dishonest ideological opponents and the media on Twitter, things will seem pretty dumb and dysfunctional, but the rest of the world is not like that. America is driven by consumption and innovation, and neither of those things are slowing in spite of the miasma that is much of political social media. Of course, one can point to small countries such as Switzerland and Sweden as superior, but even these countries are having the same sort of immigration and social justice problems as the US has.