WORK smarter, not harder. It is one of the more irritating things that a boss can tell you. But at the macroeconomic level, it is important. Growth can come from having more labour (recruiting more workers, or making existing employees work for longer hours), more capital, or from using that labour and capital more effectively—something known as total factor productivity (TFP). This can come from the kind of brilliant innovations devised by Thomas Edison (pictured) or the less-heralded but equally important improvements such as the adoption of the moving conveyor belt to speed up assembly work. Since there are limits to the amount of additional capital and labour, productivity is key to long-run growth.

Measuring productivity is far from easy; it tends to be the residual left over when all other factors have been accounted for. The OECD says it “can often be a measure of our ignorance”. Still, the attached table is very striking. It comes from the American Chamber of Commerce (here’s the link, with thanks to…Continue reading