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March/April 1989, 
Vol. 71, No. 2
Posted 1989-03-01

U.S. Investment in the 1980s: The Real Story

by John A. Tatom

John A. Tatom explains why some measures of U.S. investment performance look relatively weak in this decade. According to Tatom, recent real business fixed investment measures are the highest in nearly 60 years, especially when adjusted for the relatively larger amounts of unused plant and equipment compared with that during previous investment booms. The major difference in the data supporting each view is that the prices of capital goods have fallen sharply compared with other goods, so that a given share of income devoted to saving and purchases of capital goods could buy substantially more of them in this decade than earlier. Analyses that indicate that domestic investment and saving have been weak reach this conclusion by ignoring this decline in prices, the recent business cycle experience, and the decline in labor force growth in this decade. According to Tatom, the strength of real net investment can be most easily seen in the resumption of productivity growth, following its stagnation in the 1970s. This accelerated productivity growth reflects faster growth in the net capital stock per worker.