2023 (20), №3

The Paradox of Labour Productivity: When More Work Doesn’t Mean Better Results (the Case of American Economy)

For citation: 

Minat, V. N. (2023). The Paradox of Labour Productivity: When More Work Doesn’t Mean Better Results (the Case of American Economy). AlterEconomics, 20(3), 603–620. https://doi.org/10.31063/AlterEconomics/2023.20-3.6


This study aims to provide a theoretical and empirical assessment of the influence of increased work intensity, physical strain, and repetitive tasks on labour productivity in different sectors of the US economy over an extended period. Employing an index-based methodology, we present a comparative analysis of changes in these factors from 1901 to 2020, using indicators and standards provided by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. The findings reveal a paradoxical trend of slowing and, in some cases, declining labour productivity growth in specific sectors of the American economy. Our research hypothesis focuses on the paradox created by employers valuing employees’ time as a continuously acquired resource, resulting in increased “meaningless work”. This leads to stagnant labour productivity, requiring longer working hours as a solution. Empirical evidence confirms our hypothesis: in sectors involving material production and socially significant services, the limits of labour intensity and effort play a big role in reducing overall labour productivity. This happens independently of factors like capital and technology. On the other hand, in most commercial sectors like trade and various services, labour productivity steadily grows. These sectors efficiently use both intensive and extensive aspects of human effort per unit of time worked. The adverse impact of the proliferation of “meaningless work” is particularly noticeable in socially significant service industries, in the transport and warehousing sector in the United States. Through an examination of labour productivity trends across different sectors of the US economy, this study sheds light on the prospects of harnessing human potential within the context of structural adjustments.

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Valery N. Minat — Cand. Sci. (Geography), Associate Professor, Associate Professor of the Department of Economics and Management, Ryazan State Agrotechnological University named after P. A. Kostychev; https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8787-4274 (1, Kostycheva St., Ryazan, 390044, Russian Federation; e-mail: minat.valera@yandex.ru).

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