WHY PRODUCTIVITY IS SO IMPORTANT
Let’s begin our study of productivity and economic growth by developing a simple based loosely on Daniel Defoe’s famous novel Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe, as you may recall, is a sailor stranded on a desert island. Because Crusoe lives alone, he catches his own fish, grows his own vegetables, and makes his own clothes. We can think of Crusoe’s activities-his production and consumption of fish, vegetables, and clothing-as a simple economy. By examining Crusoe’s economy, we call learn some lessons that also apply to more complex and realistic economies. What determines Crusoe’s standard of living? In a word, productivity, the quantity of goods and services produced from each unit of input. If Crusoe is good at catching fish, growing vegetables, and making clothes, re lives well. If he is bad at doing these things, he lives poorly, Because Crusoe gets to consume only what he produces, his living standard is tied to his productivity. In the case of Crusoe’s economy, it is easy to see that productivity is the key determinant of living standards and that growth in productivity is the key determinant of growth in living standards. The more fish Crusoe can catch per hour, the more he eats at dinner. If Crusoe finds a better place to catch fish, his productivity rises. This increase in productivity makes Crusoe better off: He can eat the extra fish, or he can spend less time fishing and devote more time to making other goods he enjoys.
Productivity’s key role in determining living standards is as true for nations as it is for stranded sailors that an economy’s gross domestic product (GDP) measures two things at once: the total income by everyone in the economy and the total expenditure on the economy’s output of goods and Services. The reason GDP can measure these two things simultaneously is that, for the economy as a hole, they must be equal. Put simply, an economy’s income is the economy’s output. Like Crusoe, a nation can enjoy a high standard of living only if it can produce a large quantity of goods and services. Americans live better than Nigerians because American workers are more productive than Nigerian workers. The Japanese have enjoyed more rapid growth in living standards than Argentinean because Japanese workers have experienced more rapidly growing productivity. Indeed, one of the Ten Principles of Economics in Chapter 1 is that a country’s standard of living depends on its ability to produce goods and services Hence, to understand the large differences in living standards we observe across countries or over time, we must focus on the production of goods and services. But seeing the link between living standards and productivity is only the first step. It leads naturally to the next question: Why are some economies so much better at producing goods and services than others?
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