John Komlos and the Seven Dwarfs – by Junaid B. Jahangir

Abstract – The neoclassical paradigm leaves students with the simplistic understanding that the contribution of essential workers is far less compared to that of CEOs and financial executives. This teaching is crystallized through principle 8, which associates living standards with productivity. The objective in this paper is to develop a renewed perspective by projecting the ideas of John Komlos through the song of the seven dwarves. Such an approach allows to retain student interest, make economic content relatable, and facilitate a nuanced understanding. The song lyrics help advance a renewed perspective that higher productivity does not always lead to higher living standards. …

… Keen (2011) seems to be a challenging textbook for ECON 101 students and appears to be more suitable as an intermediate level textbook that allows students to reflect upon the neoclassical viewpoint they would have studied in introductory courses. To a lesser extent, a similar critique could be leveled for Goodwin et al. (2019) and Schneider (2019). However, in terms of simplicity and heterodox engagement with the neoclassical paradigm, Komlos (2019) stands out. Indeed, Freeman (2019) notes that “it is primarily positioned as an alternative to introductory Econ 101 “principles” type textbooks”. Kesting (2021) adds that it offers a “critical running commentary” to mainstream neoclassical textbooks. Similarly, Balak (2021) adds that “it stays as close as possible to the traditional textbook structure” and that it best facilitates “a critical reflection upon the traditional theories”. His book is well-recognized, as it has a Wikipedia page, which indicates that it has been translated to five different languages including Chinese.1 Moreover, his book has been extensively reviewed in academic journals (Allen, 2019; Blackford, 2019; Cantillo, 2019; Foster, 2019; Burnazoglu and Ostermeijer, 2020; Coclanis, 2020; Jahangir, 2020; Tomer, 2020) apart from popular online platforms. Thus, for the purposes of this paper, Komlos’ work will be predominantly considered in drawing out a renewed perspective on P8 from the song of the seven dwarves in Section 6.

In offering his work, Komlos (2021) clearly tackles the issue of equating living standards with productivity by arguing that “output does not translate automatically into well-being or happiness” and that “we no longer need an ever-increasing quantity of goods”. Komlos (2019) mentions that from 1982 to 2016, productivity increased by 94% but compensation only increased by 40% in the U.S. (p. 112). Instead of blaming globalization or technological changes, he explains this weaker connection by arguing that “firms took advantage of their power and payed workers far less than what they were worth” (p. 112). He rejects marginal analysis that equates wages to the value of the marginal product of labour because both consumers and producers do not optimize but rather satisfice respectively through heuristic rules of thumb and markups in their decision making. Additionally, like Schneider (2019), he states that “it is impossible to measure individual productivity accurately”…”… – read article here 8-2022 The missing pandemic innovation boom – Digitisation and new ways of working were meant to unleash productivity growth. What went wrong?

…”…In the years before the pandemic, the rich world’s growth rate had drastically slowed. In the 2010s American labour productivity—output per hour of work—grew half as quickly as in the decade before. Societies had become worse at finding new ideas, translating them into innovations and promulgating these innovations. Robert Gordon’s “Rise and Fall of American Growth”, published in 2016, argued that there were fewer life-changing discoveries waiting to be made. In early 2020 a paper in the American Economic Review, a leading journal, made the case that, even where there were ideas to be discovered, they were getting harder to find.

… As a new paper by Mr Gordon, of Northwestern University, and Hassan Sayed, of Princeton, notes, today’s weak productivity growth is the flipside of strong growth in 2020. Back then American firms fired their least valuable workers, boosting productivity. Now they are rehiring them, dragging it back down.

… Perhaps, at some point, the rich world will experience the long-awaited productivity boom. But adjusting for the volatility of the pandemic economy, Messrs Gordon and Sayed find “no room for a pandemic-era revival in productivity growth as has been widely suggested”. A large body of peer-reviewed evidence before the pandemic established that innovation had drastically slowed—and explained the structural reasons why that was so. Wishful thinking is not enough to change that.” 14-8-2022 The efficiency movement – When it comes to efficiency, how much is too much? – by Rob Miller 8-2022 Google Has a Productivity Problem That Has Stumped Managers for 113 Years. Will Sundar Pichai Be the First to Solve It?My bet? Probably not – By Nick Hobson

“What happened 113 years ago?, you may ask. In 1909, an engineer named Frederick Winslow Taylor wrote a book called The Principles of Scientific Management.

… Google CEO Sundar Pichai said a couple weeks ago that the tech giant’s productivity levels do not match its growing headcount. For Google execs, they want to “get better results faster” with the people they have. Employees have been reportedly warned that workers need to boost performance as “there will be blood on the streets.” 

The million dollar question is, how will Google and others measure and monitor performance in effort to boost productivity? And can they do so reliably? A recent New York Times piece discussed what’s at stake for tracking employee work performance. With newfangled tech, we’re seeing “focus scores,” “idle time,” and “point ranking systems” take center stage.

The dangers of measuring productivity levels – Google and Pichai are yet to comment on how they will keep track of productivity levels. The devil is in the details. The tools are out there. But the problems are, too. …”…  12/2020  Powerful Strategies To Increase Your Productivity As A Digital Nomad     by ALLA CHERNETS

Questions on the agenda of digital nomads, whose forefront role in the digital-first world is hard to overestimate, range widely. If you are facing choice issues, we offer tips for creating strategic plans and a list of plug and play tools for digital nomads to ensure productivity.  2019  Solving the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’   Alex Osborne
This time last year, The Economist stated that “weak productivity is Britain’s biggest economic problem—bigger, even, than the prospect of Brexit”. While that situation may have shifted in the past 12 months as Brexit has dominated the headlines, the fact remains that sluggish productivity still persists as one of the UK’s biggest economic challenges. 28/3/2021 Baumol meets Marx Posted by Diane Coyle

I read Jason Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work: Automation in an Age of Stagnation because there was a positive discussion of it on Twitter. I’d describe it as a mash-up of Baumol (‘cost disease’) and Marx (‘exploitation’).

The first part of the book is a rant about technology and why today’s tech will not increase productivity. It channels Robert Gordon and criticises economists like Erik Brynjolfsson (or before him Paul David) for arguing there are delays between innovation and the productivity effects they produce.

I have the same problem with this as with Gordon’s magnum opus: it might turn out to be correct that today’s techs have no productivity impact, but focusing only on digital entertainment and communication devices is completely unpersuasive. Vaccines, hello? The wave of biomedical innovation like the development of mRNA vaccines has rested on the plunging cost of gene sequencing, enabled by computation applied to massive amounts of data. Lab benches, test tubes, and also computers. The transition to green energy supply will require large-scale computation to manage storage, networks and grids. Additive manufacturing has many potential applications including printing organs and tissues. These applications are genuinely slow to emerge: large additional investments in equipment are needed, the organisational and ethical hurdles are high, other discoveries might be required to make them economically viable. We’re lucky so much of the prior mRNA research had been done before 2020.

Anyway, the book halfway through then turns to the growth of the service sector, the automation of routine tasks, and the debate about the potential impact on jobs. It looks back, too, at the well-known decline in middle-income jobs and growth of the contingent workforce. Having introduced Baumol’s familiar ‘cost disease’, it then turns to a Marxist analysis. Having never learned Marxist economics I found this quite interesting but heavy going, as it has its own jargon. Still, it is surely right to consider the impact of automation in the context of power struggles, or class conflict.

The book has some sections where it pauses to ask what is actually meant by ‘productivity’, a question of evergreen interest to me. It touches here on the issue of time use and time saving in services, and on activities crossing the production boundary, making it hard to measure ‘true’ productivity. As it points out, many previously household (uncounted) activities became marketed during the 20th century (‘commoditised’), and are often low-pay and precarious. However, the book then veers back to the more abstract class struggle.

All in all, I found the book quite interesting for its novel (to me) perspective, and it is well written. But much of the (non-Marxist) economic literature it draws on will be familiar to many people enticed by the subject matter. What it adds to the technology debate is, quite rightly, the issues of power and deregulation of the labour market,  beyond discussions of gig platforms. But it didn’t tell me anything new about the productivity puzzle.