Does the United States Have a Productivity Slowdown or a Measurement Problem?
Abstract

After 2004, measured growth in labor productivity and total factor productivity slowed. We find little evidence that this slowdown arises from growing mismeasurement of the gains from innovation in information technology–related goods and services. First, the mismeasurement of information technology hardware is significant preceding the slowdown. Because the domestic production of these products has fallen, the quantitative effect on productivity was larger in the 1995–2004 period than since then, despite mismeasurement worsening for some types of information technology. Hence, our adjustments make the slowdown in labor productivity worse. The effect on total factor productivity is more muted. Second, many of the tremendous consumer benefits from the “new” economy such as smartphones, Google searches, and Facebook are, conceptually, nonmarket: 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 nonmarket production are too small to compensate for the loss in overall well-being from slower market sector productivity growth. In addition to information technology, other measurement issues that we can quantify (such as increasing globalization and fracking) are also quantitatively small relative to the slowdown.


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