British and American Manufacturing and Productivity, a Comparison and Interpretation

British and American Manufacturing and Productivity, a Comparison and Interpretation

British and American Manufacturing and Productivity, a Comparison and Interpretation

British and American Manufacturing and Productivity, a Comparison and Interpretation

Excerpt

Interest in international differences in labor productivity is as old, perhaps, as the discipline of economics, with its concern over the "nature and causes of the wealth of nations." During the past decade, largely in association with the economic and political legacies of World War II, this interest has become sharper and more intense. The level of productivity within a country and differences in productivity levels among countries, have been recognized as common ingredients in the problems of postwar reconstruction, balance-of-payments disequilibria, provision for adequate military preparedness, and the industrialization of backward areas. The usefulness of labor productivity as a gauge of a country's potential output levels and living standards, and more generally, its economic strength underlies such recognition.

By now there is widespead acceptance of the proposition -- if not always of its limitations -- that a society which is able to economize its labor in production is better off than one unable to do so. Labor, broadly defined, is, after all, the end served by the production process, even though as a means in that process it is but one of several resources. To the extent that labor as a means can be economized, its rewards as an end, in the form either of output or of leisure, will be greater.

Comparisons of British with American labor productivity are by no means new. Contrasts between the two countries, generally of an impressionistic and qualitative kind, were drawn by observers during the last century, and subsequently comparisons of a more systematic, quantitative type were made. With the publication in 1948 of Laszlo Rostas' pioneering study,1 truly extensive body of comparative productivity data on an industry-by-industry basis became available. Since then contributions -- technical, statistical, and interpretative -- to the growing literature on British and American productivity differences have come from many sources.

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