Productivity Growth in Service Industries – Has 'Baumol's Disease' Really Been Cured?
Since the mid-nineties, U.S. labor productivity outgrows its European counterpart by a wide margin. Several recent studies have found that this result is brought about by relatively few service industries, where productivity growth has accelerated in the U.S., but not so in Europe. Based on this finding, TRIPLETT/BOSWORTH (2003) have asserted that ‘Baumol’s Disease’, according to which imbalances in productivity growth between a ‘progressive’ (manufacturing) and a ‘nonprogressive’ (service) sector of the economy lead to constant expenditure shifts into the latter, ‘has been cured’ – at least in the U.S. The present paper challenges this statement, showing that there is only one genuine service industry with a lasting increase in productivity, namely wholesale and retail trade. Labor productivity in the U.S. retail industry has grown fast due to a recent proliferation of Wal-Mart-type ‘big box’ stores that would be practically impossible in Europe because of stricter zoning plans. Since this ‘Wal-Mart effect’ is likely to taper off sooner or later, it is more accurate to say that ‘Baumol’s Disease’ has been protracted than to say that it has been cured.
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