Glass half full?

Mr. Cowen, who is also an occasional contributor to the Sunday Business section of The New York Times, is more skeptical about a short-term takeoff, focusing instead on what he sees as a brightening, longer-term picture of the United States economy.

The recent surge in domestic oil and gas production signals “the start of a new era of cheap energy,” he said, while less expensive online education programs could open the door to millions of people who have been priced out of more traditional academics.

At the same time, Mr. Cowen said, he now expects subtler improvements in the country’s economic well-being that will not necessarily be reflected in statistics like gross domestic product, but will be significant nonetheless.

For example, slower growth in the cost of health care will be a boon for the government and businesses, but will actually subtract from reported economic activity. “It’s like the music industry,” he said. “Revenues are lower at record companies but the experience for listeners is better.”


“The great stagnation will end for a lot of people but not everyone,” Mr. Cowen said. “I think there will be great breakthroughs but the distribution of those gains will go to owners of capital and intellectual property.”

The ongoing debate about whether we're in the nascent days of some third industrial revolution, driven by the connective fabric of the Internet, or the Great Stagnation.

Being a macroeconomist seems like a fruitless enterprise, like being a fortune-teller, but I agree with the sentiment that the returns to owning capital are greater relative to the value of one's own labor than in the past.