Working Papers

2016-03 | March 2016

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Does the United States have a Productivity Slowdown or a Measurement Problem?

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After 2004, measured growth in labor productivity and total factor productivity (TFP) slowed. We find little evidence that the slowdown arises from growing mismeasurement of the gains from innovation in information-technology (IT)-related goods and services. First, mismeasurement of IT hardware is significant prior to the slowdown and because the domestic production of these products has fallen, the quantitative effect on productivity is larger in the 1995-2004 period than since, despite mismeasurement worsening for some types of IT. Hence, our adjustments make the slowdown in labor productivity worse. The effect on TFP is more muted. Second, many of the tremendous consumer benefits from smartphones, Google searches, and Facebook are, conceptually, non-market: Consumers are more productive in using their nonmarket time to produce services they value. These benefits raise consumer well-being but do not imply that market-sector production functions are shifting out more rapidly than measured. Moreover, estimated gains in non-market production are too small to compensate for the loss in overall well-being from slower market-sector productivity growth. In addition to IT, other measurement issues we can quantify (such as increasing globalization and fracking) are also quantitatively small relative to the slowdown.

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