Productivity, population dragging US growth: Expert

Two big questions to be tackled at the American Economic Association's annual conference in Boston this week are whether the United States is in for a prolonged period of low growth and whether the Federal Reserve can avoid plunging the economy into recession when it allows interest rates to rise.

One problem with the first question: economists cannot agree on a definition for "secular stagnation," Robert Hall, professor of economics at Stanford University, told CNBC's Steve Liesman.

In his view, stagnation in family earning power since 2000 is the clearest sign of long-term anemic growth. That trend is underpinned by low expansion in productivity and a decline in the population that is either working or looking for work.

"In terms of my measure, which is family earning power, we've had no growth in spite of the fact that the total output of the economy has grown," Hall said during an interview on "Squawk on the Street."

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He said productivity gains are very resistant to policy and he is skeptical that the type of large, infrastructure projects that former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has advocated for can spur growth in the near term.

As for whether the United States could be facing a recession anytime soon, Hall said there are no particular clouds on the horizon and the outlook for the economy is good.

"There's nothing that looks like recession now, but I would have said the same thing at the beginning of 2007, but at end of 2007 we knew there was a recession," he said.