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Noah Smith

Goofing Off at Work Masks Rising Productivity

We get away with checking Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat on the job because we're getting more done in less time.
Think of all the paper they could be shuffling.

Think of all the paper they could be shuffling.

Photographer: Marjory Collins/Library of Congress

In his new book “The Complacent Class,” my Bloomberg View colleague Tyler Cowen mentions that more Americans may be slacking off at work. He offers this as one more measure of the comfortable malaise into which American culture has settled. But it also occurs to me that if leisure is replacing effort at work, it means that the country may be getting more productive more quickly than economists realize.

Productivity is a measure of how much output the economy can get for a given amount of inputs. Total factor productivity measures output as a function of labor and capital both, while labor productivity takes only workers’ time and effort into account. Both have been slowing in developed countries in the past decade. Here’s a picture of U.S. labor productivity: