Thursday, January 12, 2006

Productivity and product

I am in the sad position of having to read The Lexus and The Olive Tree for the third time: the first was self-inflicted as a naive high school student (and even then I found it too glib), and the second time and this one because certain professors have an irrational affection for the book. Anyway, this time around I am delighted to find utter stupidity as early as page 12 where Friedman argues that the 35 hour week in France reduces productivity. This of course is ludicrous. Productivity is product per hour. Working less hours doesn't mean you work less hard. If anything, it increases productivity because of diminishing marginal productivity. Friedman then explains it for the simpleminded as the French having to run a 100 meter dash in flip flops, whereas the Americans get to wear their sneakers. But this is totally wrong. It's like the French running an 80 meter dash in sneakers and the Americans having to run the full 100 meters.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Iz,

I am not sure that I follow the reasoning in this post.

A. Is the problem that Friedman (a SLP high school grad) is using the wrong term--"productivity" where he might mean "output" or the quantity that results after after a certain period of time at work. If that's the case, than maybe forgiveness may be in order; this Friedman is the journalist and not the economist.
B. I am not sure about the point taken about diminishing marginal productivity. Yes, working less hours doesn't necessarily mean you work less hard but then it doesn't necessarily mean that one is working harder.
C. My thought on this is when working at M&M Plating for uncle manny (a unique summer employment opportunity)I could wrap 10 automobile bumpers in an hour. I would wrap 10 automobile bumpers in an hour and at the end of my 8 hr. day I had wrapped 80 automobile bumpers. If I worked only 5 hours a day and wrapped 10 bumpers per hour, I would have wrapped 50 bumpers. Since 50 bumpers is less they 80 bumpers, did my productivity increase, decrease or stay the same? Obviously my output was less. Isn't it odd that cars basically no longer have chrome-plated steel bumpers.
D. Maybe the problem is the use of the analogy dealing with sneakers, flip-flops and running a 100 yd. or meter dash. A different analogy might have been more appropriate.
E. Regards to all...shar.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not sure that I follow the reasoning in this post.

A. Is the problem that Friedman (a SLP high school grad) is using the wrong term--"productivity" where he might mean "output" or the quantity that results after after a certain period of time at work. If that's the case, than maybe forgiveness may be in order; this Friedman is the journalist and not the economist.
B. I am not sure about the point taken about diminishing marginal productivity. Yes, working less hours doesn't necessarily mean you work less hard but then it doesn't necessarily mean that one is working harder.
C. My thought on this is when working at M&M Plating for uncle manny (a unique summer employment opportunity)I could wrap 10 automobile bumpers in an hour. I would wrap 10 automobile bumpers in an hour and at the end of my 8 hr. day I had wrapped 80 automobile bumpers. If I worked only 5 hours a day and wrapped 10 bumpers per hour, I would have wrapped 50 bumpers. Since 50 bumpers is less they 80 bumpers, did my productivity increase, decrease or stay the same? Obviously my output was less. Isn't it odd that cars basically no longer have chrome-plated steel bumpers.
D. Maybe the problem is the use of the analogy dealing with sneakers, flip-flops and running a 100 yd. or meter dash. A different analogy might have been more appropriate.
E. Regards to all...shar.

9:31 PM

9:36 PM  
Blogger Isaac said...

Shar:

Yeah, I could give Friedman the benefit of the doubt, but I find him sufficiently annoying and condescending that I don't feel he deserves it.

True on a factory floor with an assembly line your raw productivity didn't diminish. But I wouldn't be suprised if quality diminished (slightly). And I bet in your job today you have a harder time getting work done towards the end of the day than at the beginning.

3:32 PM  
Blogger David Schraub said...

I've told you that Tom Friedman lives across the street from me right?

He's actually a really great guy. Nice family too.

He always seems to take alot of flack in the blogosphere, so I feel the need to step up and defend him. Even if you don't like TL&OT, From Beirut to Jerusalem is still stellar.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I think that average productivity rises dramatically by increasing from 35 to 40 hours of work per week. The result I've usually seen is that when somebody works 80 hours a week, they aren't twice as productive. They're 20 times as productive. On the other hand, I can't think of a single start-up entrepreneur, or "super producer" who works less than 40 hours a week. Just a few super-producers will skew the average productivity dramatically.

3:29 PM  

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