Skip to main content

davies51_Adrian-Dennis_Getty-Images_bank-of-england Adrian Dennis/Getty Images

Understanding the Productivity Puzzle

In all major economies, the so-called productivity puzzle continues to perplex economists and policymakers: output per hour is significantly lower than it would have been had the pre-2008 growth trend continued. And while economists have offered many ingenious explanations, none has proved persuasive enough to create a consensus.

LONDON – In all major economies, the so-called productivity puzzle continues to perplex economists and policymakers: output per hour is significantly lower than it would have been had the pre-2008 growth trend continued. The figures are stark, particularly so in the United Kingdom, but also across the OECD. And while it goes without saying that economists have many ingenious explanations to offer, none has yet proved persuasive enough to create a consensus.

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, output per hour in France was 14% lower in 2015 than it would have been had the previously normal trend growth rate been matched. Output was 9% lower in the United States and 8% lower in Germany, which has remained the top performer among developed economies, albeit only in relative terms. If this new, lower growth rate persists, by 2021 average incomes in the US will be 16% lower than they would have been had the US maintained the roughly 2% annual productivity gain experienced since 1945.

The UK exhibits a particularly chronic case of the syndrome. British productivity was 9% below the OECD average in 2007; by 2015, the gap had widened to 18%. Strikingly, UK productivity per hour is fully 35% below the German level, and 30% below that of the US. Even the French could produce the average British worker’s output in a week, and still take Friday off. It would seem that, in addition to the factors affecting all developed economies, the UK has particularly weak management.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/HT604tp;
  1. bildt69_DELIL SOULEIMANAFP via Getty Images_syriansoldiermissilegun Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

    Time to Bite the Bullet in Syria

    Carl Bildt

    US President Donald Trump's impulsive decision to pull American troops out of northern Syria and allow Turkey to launch a military campaign against the Kurds there has proved utterly disastrous. But a crisis was already inevitable, given the realities on the ground and the absence of a coherent US or Western policy in Syria.

    2

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions