There are many ways to describe what appears to be worrying these voters, but if we were to sum up the danger in one word it would be stagnation. After decades of galloping growth, America now faces the prospect of a harsh and sustained deceleration, and therefore of falling behind in the world economy.
In the 60 years following World War II, the American economy grew at an average rate of 3.4 percent per year—a truly astounding persistent pace of expansion. This growth brought with it sustained improvements in income and standards of living—improvements that we have come to regard not as miraculous advances but as the normal course of American life. Our sense of the nation’s overall standard of living takes such growth for granted, so that a period of significantly slower growth feels like a real step down.
We have been living through such a period lately. Annual economic growth averaged 3.5 percent between 1960 and 1999, but only 1.7 percent between 2000 and 2009. In the Obama years, we have averaged 0.6 percent growth.
I don't agree with all of Levin's diagnosis, and I'm not sure about some of his policy recommendations (for example, it's not clear to me how getting rid of "our 19th-century system of school districts and local boards of education" is really going to lead to renewed economic growth). But he does raise some interesting points.