In "The Productivity Paradox", today's New York Times poses some interesting questions regarding the accuracy of worker productivity statistics, pointing out
For example, in financial services, the Labor Department tells us that the average workweek has been unchanged, at 35.5 hours, since 1988. That's patently absurd. Courtesy of a profusion of portable information appliances (laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants, etc.), along with near ubiquitous connectivity (hard-wired and now increasingly wireless), most information workers can toil around the clock. The official data don't come close to capturing this cultural shift.
The article theorizes that investment in new technology may be behind the upsurge:
This resulted in an increase of the portion of gross domestic product that went to capital spending. With the share of capital going up, it follows that the share of labor went down. Thus national output was produced with less labor in relative terms — resulting in a windfall of higher productivity. Once the migration from the old technology to the new starts to peak, this transitional productivity dividend can then be expected to wane.
The author briefly mentions "the growing use of overseas labor" as part of this "recent productivity miracle", but this mention brought a question to my mind - to what degree is the upsurge explained not by productivity gains, but by the fact that many hourly "white collar" positions are now being shipped overseas? When you call for product or service support, or receive a call from a telemarketer, or hire a company to perform some custom programming, often you will find yourself dealing directly (albeit invisibly) or indirectly with overseas workers. If we shift jobs which might fit a theoretical "35.5 hour" work week to nations such as India, do we artificially inflate our own nation's productivity? And at what cost?