Sadly, the New Economy is no more. The recovery from the recession of 2008-09 has been the weakest of the post-war era, and evidence is mounting that America's potential growth rate has plummeted. Its two big determinants, the supply of workers and the rise in their productivity, have both fallen short. Performance in the past year has been particularly feeble: America's labour force has not grown at all and output per hour worked has fallen. The IMF recently cut its estimate of the country's potential rate of growth to 2%. Other economists put it as low as 1.75%


Obamacare, though good in other respects, tends to shrink the labour force because it helps people get health care without working. There is less to be said for the outdated social safety net, which manages both to be stingy and to discourage work. America spends a smaller proportion of its GDP than other rich countries on retraining the jobless and helping them find work. It has not raised the retirement age and it has allowed its disability-insurance system to become an ersatz welfare scheme. The number of workers on disability, hardly any of whom will work again, has doubled since 1997 to 9m. For once, Europe could teach America some labour-market lessons: thanks to welfare reforms, the proportion of Europeans in the workforce is now rising.

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