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The U.S. Productivity Slowdown: A Case of Statistical Myopia

  • Darby, Michael R

This paper identifies three major periods: 1900-1929, 1929-1965, and 1965-1978. In contrast to the middle period, the extreme periods are characterized by rapid growth in private employment and hours worked; because growth in private productivity increases by less, measured labor productivity growth falls compared to the middle period. However this fall reflects a substantial substitution of quantity for quality in labor force growth: after private employment and hours are adjusted for age, sex, immigration, and education, no difference is observed among the average quality-adjusted labor productivity growth rates. Substantial variation in these growth rates remains within the 1929-1965 and 1965-1978 periods. Slow quality-adjusted labor productivity growth during 1929-1948 is just offset by unusually rapid growth during 1948-1965; these variations are attributed to the near cessation of investment during the Depression and World War II and subsequent recovery of the capital-labor ratio. Thus no substantial variations in total factor productivity growth or technical progress is found. Variations inproductivity growth within 1965-1978 are explained by price-control induced biases in reported deflated output. Correction of these biases results inequal quality-adjusted labor productivity growth in 1965-1973 and 1973-1978.A substantial program of future research is proposed. A data appendix is included.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 74 (1984)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 301-22

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:74:y:1984:i:3:p:301-22
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  1. Cox, Charles C, 1980. "The Enforcement of Public Price Controls," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(5), pages 887-916, October.
  2. Zvi Griliches, 1961. "Hedonic Price Indexes for Automobiles: An Econometric of Quality Change," NBER Chapters, in: The Price Statistics of the Federal Goverment, pages 173-196 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Walter Y. Oi, 1962. "Labor as a Quasi-Fixed Factor," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 538.
  4. Chiswick, Barry R, 1978. "The Effect of Americanization on the Earnings of Foreign-born Men," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 897-921, October.
  5. John Folger & Charles Nam, 1964. "Educational trends from census data," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 1(1), pages 247-257, March.
  6. Robert H. Rasche & John A. Tatom, 1977. "Energy resources and potential GNP," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Jun, pages 10-24.
  7. Friedman, Milton, 1974. "A Bias in Current Measures of Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages 431-32, Part I, M.
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