Sure Signs of Economic Decline (updated)

There is a new Ted Talk online. It mentions a fascinating tool. The Google Books n-Gram viewer. As you know, Google has scanned millions of books and used OCR to scan the text. That means that you can do statistics and this is the tool to do that. It can show you the frequency at which certain expressions show up in English literature published in certain years.

I will leave it to you and you fancy to try out whatever you want (E.g.: electric cars). But if you try the word group “wage increases” or the word “industrial”, the result is just astonishing.

Beginning with 1980, the frequency of those expressions drops consistently and steadily within a mere 25 years. The words “wage increases” were mentioned in books written in the year 1980 four times more often than in 2005. And guess what, they didn’t happen. The frequency of the word “industrial” halved in the same time frame, along with industry in the English speaking world.

When people suddenly start writing much less about industry and about wage increases, when people suddenly start to avoid words like “social” and talk less about “social security” when a Republican lunatic becomes US President – that says something about undeniable changes in society … and not for the better.

Or perhaps it merely says something about my ability to become excited for about an hour or so. Because if you do search for four letter words, it becomes rather obvious, that the kind of literature that Google has been scanning or included into its catalog must have changed quite dramatically recently. So, take the above with whatever measure of salt you deem appropriate.


8 thoughts on “Sure Signs of Economic Decline (updated)

  1. nGram is really fun.

    too bad most materials used in the analysis is in English. I wonder what Japanese, Korean or Chinese books and magazines since 1900 say anything about “happiness” or “wealth” or “society”, and it would be more fun to find out the connections.

    If we can also analyze words used in all social networks, blogs, discussion forums, comments of all kinds, audio and video clips, that would be truly awesome.

      • I had not heard of it so far, but it does look like yet another dogmatic economic sect. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that all they say is wrong, it just means that I don’t see any mechanisms how, based on their ideology, they could possibly correct any mistakes and flaws in their conception.

        Also, c’mon:

        “The Center of the Universe
        St Croix, United States Virgin Islands
        MOSLER’S LAW: There is no financial crisis so deep that a sufficiently large tax cut or spending increase cannot deal with it. “

  2. So many splinter groups that purport to have a method to have an eternal econ. expansion, you’d think after a few centuries of biz cycles, someone would get the point that they’re impossible to eliminate?

  3. Thanks so much for your information about the google research tool. It will be a new tool that I will use each day when writing my own blog (

    I also have to say kudo’s to the great comment on the Ecomomist site in response to the B.S hunting the rich article. I’m definatly a moderate and after so many years of reading the Economist two things always bother me about it.

    It definatly has a permanent lean into one direction and tries little to hide it. Moreover, It bothers me to no end that there are never citations and the authors of the articles are never named. It reduces the integrity of the entire publication to me. I think we both know why we continue to subscribe…

    Cheers from Canada

    • Thanks so much for your information about the google research tool. It will be a new tool that I will use each day when writing my own blog (

      Sure, but be careful. There are a lot of factors to consider – and in fact I fell foul on at least one of them myself. The original idea behind the ngram viewer, after all, was to show the changes in the use of language! So, while a lot of enthusiasm about this tool is certainly in order (the mere idea of everybody getting a hand on such a tool was basically unthinkable as little as 20 years ago), I found that you can’t question the results and their implications enough …

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