La bestia a la que no se puede hacer pasar hambre

CAMBRIDGE – Mientras el mundo mira como Estados Unidos lidia con su futuro fiscal, los vericuetos de la batalla reflejan divisiones sociales y filosóficas mayores, que probablemente asuman diversos aspectos en todo el mundo durante las próximas décadas. Se ha discutido mucho sobre cómo reducir el gasto gubernamental, pero demasiado poco sobre la eficiencia de ese gasto. Sin embargo, si no se aplican enfoques más creativos a la provisión de servicios gubernamentales, su costo continuará aumentando inexorablemente con el tiempo.

Todas las industrias con uso intensivo de servicios enfrentan los mismos desafíos. Allá por la década de 1960, los economistas William Baumol y William Bowen escribieron sobre la «enfermedad de los costos» que asuela estas industrias. El famoso ejemplo que usaron fue el de un cuarteto de cuerdas de Mozart, que todavía requiere la misma cantidad de instrumentos y músicos en los tiempos actuales que en el siglo XIX. De igual manera, un maestro necesita aproximadamente la misma cantidad de tiempo que hace cien años para calificar un trabajo. Los buenos plomeros cuestan una pequeña fortuna porque, también en este caso, la tecnología ha evolucionado muy lentamente.

¿Por qué el lento crecimiento de la productividad produce costos elevados? El problema es que en última instancia las industrias de servicios deben competir por la misma mano de obra que los sectores con un elevado crecimiento de la productividad, como las finanzas, la industria manufacturera y las tecnologías de la información. Aún cuando las reservas de trabajadores pueden estar segmentadas en alguna medida, hay suficiente solapamiento como para obligar a los sectores con uso intensivo de servicios a pagar salarios más elevados, al menos en el largo plazo.

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