Skip to main content

The NYT says American productivity is stagnant. Here's a theory why.

The New York Times observes that American productivity is stagnant, and considers three theories why.
During the 2008 recession, labor productivity soared. Was this because employers laid off their least productive workers first? Because everybody worked harder, fearful for their jobs? Or was it a measurement problem as government statistics-takers struggled to capture fast-moving changes in the economy? We don’t know for sure.
None of the Times' three theories use this armchair psychoanalysis to consider one obvious reason American workers aren't more productive these days:

It isn't friggin' worth it.

Since the end of the Great Recession, Americans have become more and more aware — aided by growing discussion of income inequality and movements like Occupy Wall Street — of two very salient points:

• For decades, American productivity has soared.

• During those same decades, worker wages have stagnated.

Here's The Atlantic, reporting in February 2015:
Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.
That increased productivity has been good for the bottom line of a lot of businesses, but it hasn't meant boo to most workers. (Top earners, though, have seen their income and wealth soar.) Why have Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump been so successful this  election cycle? Because a fundamental American promise — worker harder, you'll probably do better — seems to be broken.

I come from the news industry, where we've spent most of the last couple of decades under constant pressure to do more with less, more with less, more with less. At some point, there's no more to be wrung from less. And if giving more won't gain you more, why not just put in your time, clock out at the end of the day, and stress out a little bit less?

This isn't the kind of thing that economists measure, I don't suppose. But maybe productivity is declining because workers are tired of the cycle. Maybe they need incentives.


Popular posts from this blog


I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…