Long working hours, comparatively good tools, and an efficient business environment mean that we produce more per person than anybody else.
Americans have been told for years that we are the most productive workers in the world. Leaders as diverse as the president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, and the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue, have been proclaiming this.
The source of these praises is likely a report by the International Labor Organization of the United Nations a few years ago which concluded that the U.S. “leads the world in labor productivity.”
According to this U.N. report, the U.S. worker was at the top among all the nations based on the value produced per worker per year. This is measured by dividing the total annual GPD—gross domestic product (the total value of all goods and services created)—by the number of workers.
How come we are so productive?
It’s partly because we work more hours per year than any of the European or most other relatively wealthy countries.
But we are also more productive per working hour. According to Mr. José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs of the International Labor Organization, our productivity “has to do with the ICT (information and communication technologies) revolution, with the way the U.S. organizes companies, with the high level of competition in the country, with the extension of trade and investment abroad.”
In other words, we are more productive, first, because we have better tools—better computers, better training, better overall technology. Second, businesses operate with comparatively less regulation, in a relatively fair legal system, and are relatively easy to start up. Bankruptcy laws encourage more risk-taking by entrepreneurs, both by investors and those willing to give of their sweat equity. Third, these factors, combined with the government’s general lack of direct ownership in business, result in stiff business competition in many parts of the economy, so that companies are forced to get as much out of their employees as possible. And fourth, although our balance of trade seems always out of balance—with imports far exceeding exports—given the size of our economy the total value of our exports are still huge. All of these improve our productivity.
Have a good Labor Day.