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An article in WaPo in the January 28 print edition made the case for decreasing the workload of Americans based on the fourfold increase in the productivity of US workers since the 1950s. I liked the article and didn't disagree with much of it, which is a pretty rare experience for me in the last decade when reading WaPo articles on economic policy. However, there was this little gem appearing in it, that I think is worth at least a small comment, in passing.

”Companies argue that grueling work schedules are necessary to boost productivity.”

Richard Schiffman, the author of the piece didn't defend this view, but used it as a jumping off place for part of his argument that productivity gains have been great enough to justify reduced work weeks for Americans. But in doing this he failed to mention how patently silly the argument is.

The primary measure of productivity used by the OECD today is: the ratio of Gross Domestic Product to hours worked which stands in for the more basic notion output per labor hour input into the production process. Anyway, if people work longer hours and have “grueling schedules,” then output per hour will not increase. As a matter of fact, the opposite will be the case, since much empirical evidence gathered over the years, which I won't bother linking to here, shows that if one controls for the productivity contribution from capital, the productivity contribution from labor decreases as the number of hours worked per week increases beyond 30 hours.

Also, if one looks at the OECD productivity measures for 2007, the most recent comparative figures, one finds that the US is behind, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, and Luxembourg. Luxembourg has the highest productivity rating, about 37% higher than the US. But when we look at average hours worked per year among those nations we find that every one of them has an average work year in 2007 substantially lower than the US's which was 1798, with the Netherlands at 1388, Norway at 1419, and Luxembourg at 1515.

So, to summarize,  longer hours of work and productivity don't go together, whether one looks at this theoretically, or from the viewpoint of data. I think Schiffman should have pointed that out in his very good article.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I work to live (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    To me - a 40 hour workweek was plenty of time to get the job done.  Miraculously, if I didn't finish something one day, there it was the next day, waiting for me to complete.  Americans are so afraid of losing their jobs, or so eager to get ahead, they don't realize how much they are being used and abused.

    I was a manager, and a good one (so I was told ad nauseum).  I took my three weeks of vacation time and worked 8-5.  This was a rock that was not willing to bleed.

    I'm retired from that job and working part-time to keep busy.  I teach at a small college and those students are being taught not to be abused by any employer.

    love the fetus, hate the child

    by Raggedy Ann on Mon Jan 30, 2012 at 02:09:42 PM PST

  •  I suspect that part of the reason (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    why we lag some European countries in productivity is that we has massive segments of the economy that do nothing productive at all (e.g., the military, health insurance deniers, financial services, prisons . . .) and others that are designed to rely on cheap labor instead of advanced technology (e.g., certain parts of agriculture)

    By contrast, if US manufacturing were separated into its own category, it's doing quite well productivity wise (that's not good for low-skilled workers, of course).

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