Measuring Productivity Dispersion: Lessons From Counting One-Hundred Million Ballots
We measure output per worker in nearly 8,000 municipalities in the Italian electoral process using ballot counting times in the 2013 general election and two referenda in 2016. We document large productivity dispersion across provinces in this very uniform and low-skill task that involves nearly no technology and requires limited physical capital. Using a development accounting framework, this measure explains up to half of the firm-level productivity dispersion across Italian provinces and more than half the north-south productivity gap in Italy. We explore potential drivers of our measure of labor efficiency and find that its association with measures of work ethic and trust is particularly robust.
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