Productivity the current economic rage | What's Left

There are only a few macro-level measures that mainstream economists obsess over. These go in and out of style depending on the state of the global economy, and the crises currently at play. Currently, productivity is all the rage in the pages of political and economic journals and the finance press.

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Productivity is a major component of economic growth in capitalism and the distribution of its benefits have been a major source of increased inequality. Quantifying productivity is done by measuring the inputs versus the outputs of work and it is an important part of global economic growth. Technological development has driven huge gains in productivity in the past (the production line, the modern robotic production line, the more modern digital production line), but recently western economies are not seeing growth in the productivity of workers.

It used to be that capitalists would point to productivity gains under capitalism as part of the promise that, as productivity increases, the number of hours spent working would decrease, and people would be paid the same while working less. This benefit has never been realized as union power has declined. Any gains in productivity have gone directly to CEO wages and company profits. In fact, the main drive in automation has been to reduce the dependence of “costly” human workers.

Understanding the impacts that technology and work have on each other is important for left-wing governments. Being opposed to technological development and productivity increases is not the answer, and neither is embracing any and all technologies that promise greater productivity. Understanding how new technologies will influence systems of production and worker benefits is paramount.

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