Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Productivity Slowdown?

Today’s US productivity data were rather unpleasant (see Mark Thoma’s post and the links therefrom), but I’m far from ready to throw in the towel on this one. By my reckoning, the slowing of productivity growth still falls in the category of cyclical variation, and the long-term trend of productivity growth remains at least as high as it was during the late 1990s.

With the latest data, I’ll repeat the analysis from the last time I posted on this topic. (Click on the “productivity” label link at the bottom of this post.) The premise is that productivity goes in cycles, related to, but not necessarily coincident with, the business cycle. (For example, the 1990s business cycle contained two distinct productivity cycles.) I’m measuring cycles from peak to peak, and I’m making the conservative assumption that we have not yet reached the peak of the current cycle. (Obviously we are long past the peak.) Here are the average annual growth rates of business sector productivity:

1.4% 1986q1 to 1990q2
1.6% 1990q2 to 1994q4
2.5% 1994q4 to 2000q2
2.6% 2000q2 to 2006q4

An alternative, less conservative, approach, is to measure from trough to trough, with the assumption that we are currently at a trough:

1.4% 1987q1 to 1991q1
1.6% 1991q1 to 1995q3
2.6% 1995q3 to 2001q1
2.8% 2001q1 to 2006q4

Taken together, these results suggest that the current trend is approximately the same as it was in the previous cycle.

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