fwd query on productivity, stats, etc.

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Fri Apr 23 08:56:56 PDT 1999

rc-am wrote:

>thanks for this. I'm afraid I haven't had the time to do any real research to
>back up my current reflections. You would have thought that access to stats
>would have been an ideal use for the web, but unfortunately I have yet to
>find a decent world economic statistics site yet. All the commercial
>economics publications charge (hardly surprising for a bunch of capitalists I
>suppose). If you have any leads on on-line sources I love to hear of them.
>I'm particularly interested to source data on productivity in terms of
>average personhours per unit (as opposed to meaningless monetary figures).
>This is to check out a conversation I had with my US source (my father :-)
>who mentioned that industrial strategists in the US had only recently done
>widespread research on physical productivity levels and were quite shocked to
>find that, stripping away the obscuring effect of money, physical
>productivity levels in the US were much closer to East European that German
>or EU levels. This ties into my ideas on the effects of imperialism (briefly:
>a release of pressure on the search for relative surplus value, leading to a
>decline in physical productivity vis-à-vis lesser imperial countries - as
>happened with the UK during the second half of the 19th C). Obviously I'd
>love to get hold of some figures to check this out. Any ideas would be

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has some international stats - on employment, unemployment, earnings, and productivity - at <>.

"Average personhours per unit" is the meaningless concept here. Units of what? There are good reasons productivity figures are done in money - technically, money acts as the universal equivalent, the only way to equate a Jewel CD and a duffelbag; and socially, everything in capitalism is done for money, so that's the measure that really matters. On certain homogenous things where you can use physical measures, like labor hours per ton of steel, U.S. producers have massively improved their performance, and are now among the most efficient in the world. But even a car can't be considered a unit - they vary too much, whether at one moment in time (a Hyundai vs. a BMW) or at widely separated moments in time (a 1966 Ford Fairlane vs. a 1999 Taurus). Statisticians try - heroically, though probably hopelessly - to adjust for those qualitative differences using monetary measures, so in that sense a monetary unit is a better measure than a physical unit. Conceptually at least; whether the beancounters can pull it off is another story.


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