Thursday, January 12, 2006

US Companies Get Productivity from Info Technology

Productivity in US business has been racing ahead of Europe. And the reason seems to be the use of information technology. The HAL R. VARIAN in the New York Time reports:
Growth in output per hour in the third quarter of 2005 was a striking 5.4 percent. In fact, output per hour has grown at an average annual rate of nearly 3.5 percent over the last three years. These are large numbers by historical terms. From 1974 to 1995, productivity grew at around 1.4 percent a year. Productivity growth in the United States accelerated to about 2.5 percent a year from 1995 to 2000. Since then, productivity has grown at a bit over 3 percent a year, with the last few years looking particularly strong. Unlike the United States, European countries have not seen the same surge in productivity growth in the last 10 years.
What's the difference?
Nowadays, most economists agree that information technology is a significant part of the explanation for the post-1995 productivity surge in the United States. In fact, when you look at productivity statistics by industry, those industries that make and use information and communications technologies intensively in the United States have accounted for the bulk of the productivity growth, with other industries showing little change. The story is quite different in the European Union. In the late 1990's, when productivity growth in the United States was accelerating, productivity growth in Europe was static. But Europe has access to the same information technology that the United States does, at more or less the same prices. Why didn't those countries get the same increase in productivity?
We were telling school people about this in the early 1990s. That businesses didn't get a pay back from computerizing unless they changed the way they did their work. And where they spend the money.
Furthermore, the authors suggest that information technology capital may be a big part of the productivity difference: American companies in Britain use a whopping 40 percent more information technology capital per worker than the average company. Not only did American companies use more information technology, they used it more effectively. According to the economists, "U.S. firms appeared to simply get more productivity out of the same amount of I.T. (this was not true of non-I.T. capital)."
The report by Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics is here.

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