Robert Shiller on the Impact of the Country’s Mood

NYT: Stuck in Neutral? Reset the Mood

In reality, business recessions are caused by a curious mix of rational and irrational behavior. Negative feedback cycles, in which pessimism inhibits economic activity, are hard to stop and can stretch the financial system past its breaking point.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statisticsannual growth of business output per labor hour averaged 3.2 percent from 1948 to 1973, but only 1.9 percent from 1973 to 2008.

Ever since the long-term productivity slowdown became visible, the economist Samuel Bowles, now at the Santa Fe Institute, has said that its causes are to be found as much in the loss of “hearts and minds” of workers and investors as in technology.

This month at Yale, in lectures titled “Machiavelli’s Mistake,” he spoke of the error of thinking that a high-performance economy could be based on self-interest alone. And he warned of the overuse of incentives that appeal to individual gain.

The speculative boom periods that ended a few years ago carried us into such overuse, and today’s malaise is partly a result of our disorientation from that period.

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