U.S. Productivity Rose at 0.9% Rate in Second Quarter

U.S. Productivity Rose at 0.9% Rate in Second Quarter
Nonfarm business-sector productivity increased at a 0.9% seasonally adjusted annual rate
By Ben Leubsdorf
Aug. 9, 2017

U.S. worker productivity picked up modestly in the second quarter but showed little sign of breaking out of the sluggish trend that has prevailed for more than a decade, holding back economic growth and living standards.

Rapid productivity gains, as seen during the information technology-fueled boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, can boost household incomes, economic growth and government tax receipts.

Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School and a former top White House economist under President George W. Bush … said the government can help to boost productivity growth by overhauling business taxes, rolling back regulations and supporting basic research. Such steps could increase business investment and the know-how that helps to fuel growth.

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said “government policy works best when it can address a need that the private sector neglects, including investment in basic research, infrastructure, early childhood education, schooling and public health.”


Hunger Games

We’re About to Live in a World of Economic Hunger Games
July 2016

In a new book, former labor leader Andy Stern takes on technological disruption and offers some (possible) solutions

His book, Raising the Floor: How A Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream …

His conclusion: you can’t fight the machines. Stern lays out tales of just how far the robots have already come–Charles Schwab’s automated financial advisors and humanoid attendants at a Japanese theme park are two memorable examples–as well as where they are going. His take, based on data from McKinsey and others, is that at least 58% of jobs will eventually be automated

Lazy workers are necessary

Lazy workers are necessary for long-term sustainability in insect societies
Eisuke Hasegawa, et al.
Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 20846 (2016)

Optimality theory predicts the maximization of productivity in social insect colonies, but many inactive workers are found in ant colonies. Indeed, the low short-term productivity of ant colonies is often the consequence of high variation among workers in the threshold to respond to task-related stimuli.
Why is such an inefficient strategy among colonies maintained by natural selection?
Here, we show that inactive workers are necessary for the long-term sustainability of a colony. Our simulation shows that colonies with variable thresholds persist longer than those with invariable thresholds because inactive workers perform the critical function of replacing active workers when they become fatigued. Evidence of the replacement of active workers by inactive workers has been found in ant colonies. Thus, the presence of inactive workers increases the long-term persistence of the colony at the expense of decreasing short-term productivity. Inactive workers may represent a bet-hedging strategy in response to environmental stochasticity.

journalistic version:

Andrew McAfee: Are droids taking our jobs?

Are droids taking our jobs?
Andrew McAfee. TEDxBoston, Jun 2012

I took the last 20 years of GDP growth and the last 20 years of labor productivity growth and used those in a fairly straightforward way to try to project how many jobs the economy was going to need to keep growing.

I for one welcome our new computer overlords.

TED Radio Hour

Winning Math’s Fields Medal

How Does Winning Math’s Fields Medal Affect Productivity?
by Shankar Vedantam
August 18, 2014

An analysis by two economists finds that winners of the medal, the most significant prize in mathematics, become significantly less productive in their chosen field of study after they win the prize.

Productivity: defined by number of publications
learning curve


Brazil isn’t growing—so why are Brazilians so happy?

Brazil isn’t growing—so why are Brazilians so happy?
May 7th 2013

the average Brazilian worker is only a quarter as productive as an American one.

if Brazil is to join the ranks of rich countries, its GDP will have to get much bigger. At only $11,000 per capita, there will not be enough to go round otherwise

Why The Falling Birthrate Is Bad News For My 2-Year-Old Son

Why The Falling Birthrate Is Bad News For My 2-Year-Old Son
by Alex Blumberg
December 07, 2012

The U.S. birthrate just fell to its lowest point since we’ve been keeping track. Here’s why that may be a problem for my 2-year-old son.

workers become more productive over time, says Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“You know, a lot of these people run around going, ‘In 1960, we had five workers for every retiree, and today we have three, and in 20, 25 years we’ll have two,’ ” Baker says. “Guess what? Both workers and retirees have considerably higher living standards, at least on average, than they did in 1960.”

Not everyone is convinced by this argument.

“When they laid out the long-term financing of Social Security, they assumed a world that didn’t happen,” says Phillip Longman, author of the book The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What To Do About It.

“They assumed a world in which GDP growth would be 5 percent a year, in which poverty would wither away, in which we would be beset by the miseries of affluence,” he says. “And guess what? We didn’t grow up to be the affluent society. We grew up in a world in which kids are more likely to be poor now than they were 20 years ago.”