US Worker Productivity Slumps At Worst Rate In 23 Years

Despite a very modest beat of expectations US worker productivity fell for the 2nd quarter in a row (down 1.0% vs 1.3% QoQ), the two-quarter-average output per hour isdown 1.4% - the worst slump since 1993. Unit labor costs rose by a better than expected 4.1% (helped by a downwardly revised 2.7% rise in Q4), the highest since Q4 2014.

America’s productivity slump is the biggest in nearly a quarter century...

 

As Bloomberg notes, the confluence of falling productivity, higher labor costs and an economic slowdown are putting a dent in companies’ bottom lines, with earnings among S&P 500 Index members projected to slip for the fourth straight quarter.

As we detailed previously, there are numerous reasons for this plunge in worker-productivity, from perverted inventives not to work to unintended consequences of monetary policy enabling zombies, but perhaps the most critical driver is exposed in the following dismal chart...

51% of total time spent on the Internet is on mobile devices - in 2015, first time ever mobile is #1 - to make a total of 5.6 hours per day snapchatting, face-booking, and selfying...

Source: @kpcb

So, while every effort can be made by Ivory Tower academics to solve the problem of American worker productivity, perhaps it can be summed up simply as "Put The Smart-Phone Down!"

As we detailed previously, adjusting for the WWII anomaly (which tells us that GDP is not a good measure of a country’s prosperity) US productivity growth peaked in 1972 – incidentally the year after Nixon took the US off gold.

The productivity decline witnessed ever since is unprecedented. Despite the short lived boom of the 1990s US productivity growth only average 1.2 per cent from 1975 up to today. If we isolate the last 15 years US productivity growth is on par with what an agrarian slave economy was able to achieve 200 years ago.

In addition, the last 15 years also saw an outsized contribution to GDP from finance. If we look at the US GDP by contribution from value added by industry we clearly see how finance stands out in what would otherwise have been an impressively diversified economy.

With hindsight we know that finance did more harm than good so we can conservatively deduct finance from the GDP calculations and by doing so we essentially end up with no growth per capita at all over a timespan of more than 15 years! US real GDP per capita less contribution from finance increased by an annual average of 0.3 per cent from 2000 to 2015. From 2008 the annual average has been negative 0.5 per cent!

In other words, we have seen a progressive (pun intended) weakening of the US economy from the 1970s and the reason is simple enough when we know that monetary policy broken down to its most basic is a transaction of nothing (fiat money) for something (real production of goods and services). Modern monetary policy thereby violates the most sacred principle in a market based economy; namely that production creates its own demand. Only through previous production, either your own or borrowed, can one express true purchasing power on the market place.

The central bank does not need to worry about such trivial things. They can manufacture the medium of exchange at zero cost and express purchasing power on the same level as the producer. However, consumption of real goods and services paid for with zero cost money must by definition be pure capital consumption.

Do this on a grand scale, over a long period of time, even a capital rich economy as the US will eventually be depleted. Capital per worker falls relative to competitors abroad, cost goes up and competitiveness falls (think rust-belt). Productive structures cannot be properly funded and the economy must regress to align funding with its level of specialization.

In its final stage, investment give way for speculation, and suddenly finance is the most important industry, pulling the best and brightest away from every corner of the globe, just to find more ingenious ways to maximise capital consumption.

As the slave economy got perverted by incentives not to work, so does the speculative fiat based economy, which consequently create debt serfs on a grand scale.

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