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I got an encouraging message from NBBooks to extract out and extend the part of my last diary about productivity.  American productivity is usually reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as

Labor productivity, or output per hour, is calculated by dividing an index
of real output by an index of hours of all persons, including employees,
proprietors, and unpaid family workers.

Here real output is calculated from GDP.  So another words the more money that swirls around our economy the more productive we all are for doing exactly the same job.  But what if we measure productivity in a more reasonable way?


y(2010) = ( (number of 2010 workers) / 2010 population ) / ( (number of 1939 workers) / 1939 population )

for financial(2010) = (7,630,000 / 309,050,816) / (1,386,000 / 130,879,718) = 2.33

and the picture clicks through to the raw BLS worker by industry data.  So according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics it now takes two workers in retail or construction to serve the same number of people that required one person in 1939.  2.33 2010 workers in financial services are required where proportional to the population one 1939 worker was employed.

There are a number of ways to interpret this picture.  For instance we know that manufacturing hasn't become more productive it has just been outsourced.  One could argue that the financial sector is doing global work or that it just does twice as good a job as it did in 1939, even an extra persons worth from 1967 etc.

Perhaps one industry could be explained in such a fashion but the proportionally higher number of workers required is across many industries

Here the BLS starts some of its sub sector data at dates other than 1939 so you see some industries above with base lines that start in later years.  But no matter when the baseline starts the graph shows these industries piling on more and more people to do seemingly the same service for the same number of customers.

Furthermore industries that fall out of political favor suddenly require less workers

Conversely growing the number of workers in an important but less politically favored sector is difficult.

Scientific research and development services provided 621,700 jobs in 2008. Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences accounted for about 90 percent of the jobs; the rest were in research and development in the social sciences and humanities.

Financial activities employed over 8 million people in 2008.  Many of these these employees were top students that could easily have, in a more productive society, attempted some useful scientific labor instead of helping bring the world to its economic knees.  Without Too Big To Fail maybe some of these workers would right now be making their way towards something useful.

There used to be a story that circulated about Japan's attempt at keeping its citizens employed.  After the automation of parking stubs Japan kept an older attendant whose job it was to take the ticket from the person driving, feed it into the machine and hand it back to the driver.  But America has a graying working population also.  The rate of civilian workforce to the rest of the population stayed at near 50% in 1998, 1998 and 2008.  But the percentage of the civilian workforce 45 and older grew from 16% to 21% to 24% respectively in those years.

Resources are another lens to look at productivity.  Here is oil consumption in some comparably large and rich nations:

Country Barrels per day per 1,000 people Year
United States 68.672 2007
Ireland 48.892 2007
Australia 47.284 2007
Korea, South 45.142 2007
Taiwan 41.261 2006
Greece 41.228 2007
Spain 39.829 2007
Japan 39.291 2007
Sweden 39.165 2007
New Zealand 38.486 2007
Austria 35.294 2007
Denmark 34.857 2007
Israel 33.004 2006
France 32.839 2005
Switzerland 32.417 2007
Germany 29.805 2007
Italy 29.27 2007
United Kingdom 29.008 2007
Portugal 28.282 2007
Russia 20.215 2007
The collapse of American productivity is likely across private and public sectors alike.  It is simply the result of too many people engaged in unnecessary or wrong activities and meanwhile using extravagant resources.  There is every indication that, once you ignore the number of hours worked and the swirl of money changing hands, America is actually an indolent society.  The American work ethic has been perverted in the same way that some birds will attempt to hatch any round object placed near its nest.

Originally posted to The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party on Sun Apr 10, 2011 at 05:58 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What Do You Suggest I Do With My Time? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    disrael, gerald 1969

    "Work ethic" is a term typically applied to workers. I'm a worker, I'm willing to work. Nobody seems to be interested in that.

    I smell a problem with a hiring ethic.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Apr 10, 2011 at 06:24:49 PM PDT

  •  That method doesn't really measure productivity (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


    I agree that GDP out put per person is not really a good way either.  But your method doesn't take into account that we have a lot more stuff per person than in 1939.

    For instance, we shop a hell of a lot more, and we live in larger houses, with less people per household.  So of course there are twice as many construction or retail workers per person than in 1939.

    The only real way to compare productivity is to compare worker outputs on a vary narrow and limited basis:

    ie how many worker hours are required to produce 100 tons of steel.

    We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. - Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

    by RageKage on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 08:58:24 PM PDT

    •  Do we need the larger houses and more stuff? (0+ / 0-)

      You are making the assumption that these are choices consumers make.  But I might have to buy a house and a much larger house just because that is a despotic fashion in real estate (I have to invest in a bubble or be left behind financially).  I might have to buy more stuff because early retirement is not an option and investments don't do well compared to real inflation.  And society might be structured that way just so that these choices mandatory - take our middle east wars and health insurance for instance.

      •  There is no assumption that we need more stuff (0+ / 0-)

        I completely agree that society is structured in a way that mandates ever greater production that is neither sustainable or desirable, and that it places no value on time spent not working.

        But productivity measures output per worker hour, not output by population.  Thus a society with a lower output per person may still be more productive (under the traditional measure) if the number of hours worked per person is also lower.

        We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. - Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

        by RageKage on Tue Apr 12, 2011 at 11:44:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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