Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Macroeconomic Dimension for Productivity

Is it possible to think about productivity in terms of aggregate (supply side) output potential, alongside the microeconomic terms in which productivity are generally expressed? One reason this is important: the macro effects which accrue to sector divisions can sometimes act as equilibrium constraints, as is occurring now. I'm concerned these equilibrium constraints have not been fully taken into account, in the productivity discussions of the present.

Yet the macroeconomic dimension of productivity was touched on centuries earlier by Adam Smith, well before economics became recognized as a individual field of study - let alone micro and macro. Even though Adam Smith recognized labour divisions as either "productive" or "unproductive" (a macro concept), his divisions of labour terminology and its associated microeconomic context are most frequently referenced in the present. For instance, the site "Economics Help" highlights an Adam Smith quote as a human capital reference:
The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour...seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.
Smith's above quote is microeconomic in nature, for it illustrates internal institutional coordination. Yet his broader labeling of labour divisions, holds an important macroeconomic dimension. In a "Wealth of Nations" chapter entitled "Of the Accumulation of Capital, or of Productive and Unproductive Labour, Adam Smith begins:
There is one sort of labour which adds to the value of the subject upon which it is bestowed: there is another which has no such effect. The former, as it produces a value, may be called productive; the latter, unproductive labour...the labour of some of the most respectable orders in the society is, like that of menial servants, unproductive of any value, and does not fix or realize itself in any permanent subject, or vendible commodity, which endures after that labour is past, and for which an equal quantity of labour could afterwards be procured. The sovereign, for example...are unproductive labourers.
In part, Smith's concern appeared to be that "unproductive" labour did not contain the seeds of its own self replicating processes. Productivity ultimately comes down to output, and time based product thus far has been organized in ways that output is constrained at the outset. On the other hand, the capital investment of tradable sector activity is self replicating, because it takes place as a closed system in which investment is directly aligned with output. Adam Smith spoke extensively of the fortuitous wealth creation circumstance of this closed system.

Whereas the output of non tradable time based product, takes place in a general equilibrium construct (or open system) which depends on system wide resource capacity to define total non tradable sector output, instead of internal coordination elements. The result is time based product which has no means by which to directly align human capital investment with total output gains, or by extension, greater productivity.

What occurs instead, are continuous efforts to improve aggregate quality gains. While this human capital improvement/investment approach is effective in the closed loop of tradable sectors; in non tradable sector time based product, the process of seeking productivity gains becomes like a dog chasing its own tail. How so? Due to reliance on an open system to coordinate human capital in relation to output, quality gains often result in human capital investment which is more extensive than the system output of time based product, over time. This process also results in greater debt formation and the Baumol effect.

The open ended macroeconomic problem of time based product, or the "unproductive" labour of Adam Smith's time, is one reason I've suggested symmetric compensation and coordination, which could align human capital directly with output in ways that don't allow the costs of human capital investment to outweigh total output benefits, over time. Instead, quality gains in time use would accrue from individual to group efforts capable of internalizing a wide range of time use potential which otherwise is not readily captured.

This internal coordination and time quantified process would also exist - like tradable sector activity - as a first mover position, capable of generating new economic growth. Best, the process would eventually provide new product without the burdens of increased human capital investment costs, in relation to total output. One could also say that the macroeconomic dimension of this process, is the capture of internal resource use flows that eventually restore balance to the tradable and non tradable sectoral problems which presently inhibit long term growth.

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