Minyan Mailbag: Malinvestment Behind the Return of the Slacker
If too much malinvestment predominates, then you have entire enterprises of people running around to no profitable end, regardless of how "hard" they work.
I think you've hit on one of the major causes of the productivity backpedaling when you point out that workers have long been receiving deteriorating real compensation. I think that as credit dries up, they will be left to face the impact of this lack of real income growth. Credit has simply masked that impact for years (indeed, the deteriorating real incomes have probably spurred the very same runaway consumer credit growth).
But I think there is another side to the drop in productivity, which I also expect to continue in force: the business world in general seems to have forgotten how to create progress at its financial core (wisely financing innovation). If too much malinvestment predominates, then you have entire enterprises of people running around to no profitable end, regardless of how "hard" they work. Ultimately, the debt tied to malinvestment does not get paid back, at which point it effectively subtracts from the GDP, and shows up as lower bulk productivity in the economy.
In a series of mass economic bubbles, such as those which have come to dominate the U.S. economy, you have a rolling pool of malinvestment, which remains even if the current bubble changes. The bubble sucks millions of people into fictitious bubble jobs, all of which are essentially malinvestment. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of pointless and unnecessary jobs and trillions of dollars of fictitious wealth created in the housing finance bubble (ignoring the companion home building bubble).
I would place the number of such jobs in our economy at at least 5 mln, including the housing bubble, the (overpriced) health care bubble, and the Homeland Security bubble. That's a lot of productivity decline baked into the cake...
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