The US achieves French levels of labour productivity: Halleluljah!

It\’s long been noted that French labour productivity is higher than that in the US. For example, Paul Krugman from 2005:

First things first: given all the bad-mouthing the French receive, you may be surprised that I describe their society as \”productive.\” Yet according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, productivity in France – G.D.P. per hour worked – is actually a bit higher than in the United States.

And this number is true: among those who have a job productivity is higher in France per hour than it is in the US.

The normal explanation given for this (that is, the explanation where people don\’t immediately swoon over how much better a Statist, social democratic, high welfare cost place like France must therefore be) is that in France the very low (or even no) productivity workers don\’t get a job at all, while in the US they do.

Certainly, historically, it\’s been true that the unemployment rates diverge notably: and very largely because of the differences in the long term unemployment rates.

But we are able to bring you good news:

For another take on #3, during the job-destroying periods of 2009, per hour labor productivity growth is rising at astonishing rates, try 3.4, 8.4, 7, and 6 percent, each quarter, annualized.  That\’s not just the regular accretion of technological progress (though some of it may be), it is an artifact from dumping lower quality and zero MP workers.  If I look in the second quarter and see labor hours go down 7.9 percent and see per hour productivity rise 8.4 percent, well, that\’s no proof but I sure go hmm….

US labour productivity is soaring at present: and largely because the workers who have been fired are the lowest to no productivity ones.

All of which should make Paul Krugman and other admirers of the European social democratic model hugely happy of course. The US is now approaching French levels (OK, getting closer to, hey, without measuring absolute levels we don\’t know whether it\’s passed it yet) of labour productivity per hour.

Which is great of course.

And the US is doing this in the same manner that France does. Firing the only marginally productive and dumping them on the long term unemployment rolls instead (note, long term US unemployment is soaring right now).

My only confusion is that with the US becoming more like continental Europe no one seems to be cheering about it as yet. Even those who have long been arguing that the US should become more like continental Europe.

It\’s a real puzzle, let me tell ya\’.

10 thoughts on “The US achieves French levels of labour productivity: Halleluljah!”

  1. There’s an irrational assymetry to this which reminds me of arguments about “absolute poverty” (poverty) versus “relative poverty” (inequality). People will talk about how terrible inequality is, and how we must make the poor wealthy. (This is not incompatible with wanting to reduce absolute poverty.) But if you talk about measures which will decrease absolute poverty but increase inequality, they are not so keen, even if the poor are getting richer, because the rich are getting richer faster. They don’t like that.

  2. France and Productive in the same sentence? Having lived there for a good 7 years I can attest that a large part of the French economy is ridiculously unproductive. Try dealing with any organ of the state. Just be prepared to weep…I am not sure USA attaining this level of productivity is a good thing at all!

  3. What I have seen of French ‘productivity’ and what I hear anecdotally makes me very suspicious of these international productivity comparisons.

    “And the US is doing this in the same manner that France does. Firing the only marginally productive and dumping them on the long term unemployment rolls instead.” — Forgive me, but I’m not clear why the US has supposedly been hoarding the marginally productive and France has not…

    Tim adds: Because in hte American (and also UK) systems the marginally productive manage to get jobs, whereas in some other places they don’t.

    The point really is the underlying moral one. Yes, we can indeed hold up places with higher per hour labour productivity as being desirable. But it does depend upon the reasons for such. If it’s because they’ve all more capital, human and physical, then this is obviously desirable (as, say, the productivity difference between hte UK and Somalia is just great for Brits). But if it’s simply by not employing 4% of the population (about the historical difference between US and continental European unemployment rates) then not obviously so: indeed we might consider this to be a bad thing.

  4. I agree with the comments above. I live here too and I see very little productivity but I see some very long lunches. Perhaps that’s it.
    Seriously though, a productivity index is seriously misleading.
    Let’s take a simplified economy, where there’s one baker per 1,000 population and nothing else. Taxes on the baker are very high, and bread is very expensive, but productivity (GDP per worker) is off the chart.
    On the other hand (and I hate to even contemplate this) perhaps it’s down to good management. France is notoriously over managed. But might this actually lead to more careful consideration of investment goals? Hence less wasted investment, more productivity per capital unit.
    I hate this answer too, but maybe it’s true?

    Tim adds: The generally accepted true answer is that the low productivity workers aren’t working (they’re all in hte banliues) thus pushing up the productivity of those who are.

  5. “The generally accepted true answer is that the low productivity workers aren’t working (they’re all in hte banliues) thus pushing up the productivity of those who are.”

    There’s also a great deal happening in les banliues that doesn’t necessarily show up on the radar. Lot of grey & black economy stuff. Clandestine clothing factories, that sort of thing.
    The result must end up in the above the line economy eventually.

  6. Hello every American who lived in France thinking French are lazy and disorganized. I’m thinking that you are confusing result and way to do. We arrive at a better result without making permanent advertising on it. If you don”t respect France don”t stay so long there. Personally I have worked 4 years through several short contracts for the same large Group in New Technologies and I took zero holiday within 4 years. And I have done more hours than written. So please respect us and you could learn and progress more. Just use google and you xill find many debates about the calculation because you are not able to admit the real. It s very dangerous to think you are the best and the other that process differently are less efficient. Now in fact you confirmed that American doesn’t have culture and are not open mind. Even in doing the calculation dividing GDP by employment rate we are good.
    sorry you are not good player

  7. France have one of the highest productivity in the world, so it is not realy funny to read all those BS about France cannot go in the same sentence with productivity. I am telling to those scums, screw you.

    According to EU statistical agency Eurostat, France have productivity for 33% higher than EU average, 10% higher productivity than Germany and 26% higher productivity than Britain. So screw you liers!

  8. Also France produce the fastest train (AGV) in the world, France actually keep the world speed record, France produce one of the best fighter jet Rafale, France civil nuclear technology is most likely the safest and best in the world, France produce the fastest serial production car, Bugatti Veyron, France produce the best airplane in the world, Airbus, France produce wide range of the high tech military products, like missiles, for example Exocets, and etc, France is one of the highest creditors in the world, the highest in EU, France have 3rd biggest golden reserves in the world, France have good and respective car industry, only “problem” is because British and US right wings dickheads which don’t saw France with theirs eyes, talking BS and lies about France.

  9. In transport, I saw Jay Leno talking about good highways in Germany, well how many of you know that French motorway system is by size big like German, but in quality is much better than German highways system?

    How many of you know that French high speed railway system is the best in the world with possible cruising speed up to 350 km/h?

    How many of you know that on French railway track Paris – Strasbourg, French SNCF with theirs new high tech AGV train made in France, world speed train record 474 km/h, what is less for 7km/h than Maglev speed record which float over track?

    France is full of the high tech facilities, even have them more than Germany, and major and only high tech competitor of the Germany in Europe is actually France.

    Watch on Youtube just how French and Germans in high tech atelier near Strasbourg (Alsace France) construct Bugatti Veyron, the fastest serial production car.

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