Economists at Goldman, Sachs & Co., for instance, suspect it's the numbers themselves that might be the problem.
They argue precisely what Silicon Valley has been crowing for years now: that software is eating the world.
The "measured price of computer hardware has plunged by 91.5 percent since 1995," they note, but "measured software prices [have] only edged down slightly over the past two decades."
This is important because America's information technology "center of gravity" has shifted "away from hardware, to software and digital," whose products now make up more than half of the output and market valuation of the sector, says Goldman.
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It may be well more than half, actually, given that Apple—America's biggest tech company—is still included as hardware in the consumer price index, despite selling a growing mix of software and digital products.
The price of these products matters greatly for gross domestic product, or GDP, which is reported in real, or inflation-adjusted, terms. The lower the price for a given product amid steady demand, therefore, the bigger boost that delivers to real GDP growth.
In other words, if hardware's falling prices tend to boost real GDP, software and digital content's flat prices, especially as those products grow as a proportion of tech spending, "will result in a spurious slowdown in real GDP growth," Goldman observes.
If software and digital prices were instead falling at the 20-year average pace seen on the hardware side of about 5 percent a year, that would mean an understatement to GDP growth of about 0.2 percentage-points per year.
Throw in another 0.75 percentage-points of "consumer surplus" from new software and digital products that is otherwise un-captured in the data, as Erik Brynjolfsson and JooHee Oh have estimated, and "we walk away persuaded by the notion that productivity mismeasurement could be a significant issue," says Goldman.
If this argument is correct, it means real GDP growth in this country may be much healthier than thought, that the standard of living in fact may be growing as much as in the past, that true inflation is actually lower than measured inflation, and that gauges like employment—which has shown steady improvement--may be more reliable.
In sum, "it would be better for Fed officials to delay monetary tightening until 2016," Goldman argues.