And the Answer Is…Productivity

I teach Economics 1 with an “audience response system” similar to the ones you see on TV game shows. Think of the “Lifeline” on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Each student in the lecture has a little hand-held transmitter. They press the keys on the transmitter to give their opinions on issues or answers to questions. Their answers come directly into my laptop computer and are immediately projected in a bar chart on the screen, creating an opportunity for discussion.

The question above generated a good discussion this week. I asked students to respond A through E at the start of the lecture, which was about labor productivity and wages. Later in the lecture I then presented and explained the chart below which shows that the best answer is B. Productivity growth is highly correlated with compensation growth over time as predicted by basic economic theory and leaves relatively little for A, C, D, or E to explain. But before seeing the graph many guess another answer, and I suspect most people are surprised that there is so little to explain after you take productivity into account.

In the chart, labor productivity (output per hour of work) and compensation (wages plus fringe benefits per hour of work) pertain to the nonfarm business sector in the United States. Compensation is adjusted for inflation by dividing by the price of nonfarm business output which corresponds with the output measure. In the past few years the consumer price index (CPI) has grown faster than the price index for nonfarm business output. So if you adjust compensation by the CPI rather than the price index for nonfarm business as in the chart, compensation per hour deviates slightly below the productivity line in recent years, but the basic story over the long haul is the similar.

About John B. Taylor 117 Articles

Affiliation: Stanford University

John B. Taylor is the Mary and Robert Raymond Professor of Economics at Stanford University and the Bowen H. and Janice Arthur McCoy Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He formerly served as the director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, where he is now a senior fellow, and he was founding director of Stanford's Introductory Economics Center.

Taylor’s academic fields of expertise are macroeconomics, monetary economics, and international economics. He is known for his research on the foundations of modern monetary theory and policy, which has been applied by central banks and financial market analysts around the world. He has an active interest in public policy. Taylor is currently a member of the California Governor's Council of Economic Advisors, where he also previously served from 1996 to 1998. In the past, he served as senior economist on the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1976 to 1977, as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1989 to 1991. He was also a member of the Congressional Budget Office's Panel of Economic Advisers from 1995 to 2001.

For four years from 2001 to 2005, Taylor served as Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs where he was responsible for U.S. policies in international finance, which includes currency markets, trade in financial services, foreign investment, international debt and development, and oversight of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He was also responsible for coordinating financial policy with the G-7 countries, was chair of the working party on international macroeconomics at the OECD, and was a member of the Board of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. His book Global Financial Warriors: The Untold Story of International Finance in the Post-9/11 World chronicles his years as head of the international division at Treasury.

Taylor was awarded the Alexander Hamilton Award for his overall leadership in international finance at the U.S. Treasury. He was also awarded the Treasury Distinguished Service Award for designing and implementing the currency reforms in Iraq, and the Medal of the Republic of Uruguay for his work in resolving the 2002 financial crisis. In 2005, he was awarded the George P. Shultz Distinguished Public Service Award. Taylor has also won many teaching awards; he was awarded the Hoagland Prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching and the Rhodes Prize for his high teaching ratings in Stanford's introductory economics course. He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his research, and he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society; he formerly served as vice president of the American Economic Association.

Before joining the Stanford faculty in 1984, Taylor held positions as professor of economics at Princeton University and Columbia University. Taylor received a B.A. in economics summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University in 1973.

Visit: John Taylor's Page, Blog

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