Bill Tatro

Most recently the Labor Department reported that our country’s productivity rose a revised 1.8% in the fourth quarter of 2013. That could be good or bad, depending on your perspective, yet it’s down from a previously reported 3.2% and it’s also substantially lower than the 3.5% rise that was declared for the third quarter of 2013.

According to a recent column in MarketWatch, a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Company, this newly revised fourth quarter result is not a good thing. As stated by the columnist, “Productivity is a good barometer of a nation’s well-being. Companies earn higher profits when productivity rises and they can afford to pay more to workers, especially if they need to hire to keep up with demand. The wealthiest countries have the most productive workers.”

Let’s examine this quote in further detail.

The wealthiest countries have the most productive workers — I’m quite sure the columnist was referring to the wealth of the United States but since our balance sheet shows a preponderance of debt, our country’s wealth is certainly questionable. However, if he simply substituted the word “corporation” for the word “country,” I would definitely agree with him. These days, it seems that increased corporate productivity means fewer workers and a more favorable bottom line, which in turn means better earnings per share and a higher stock price for that company.

They can afford to pay more to workers — Of course they can, but they won’t, as the slippery slope of fewer workers combined with the pressure to achieve more profit takes hold of the corporation’s bottom line.

They need to hire to keep up with demand — Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and others have obviously realized that unlike the typical employee, technology doesn’t need to take a vacation, it will never call in sick, and it will never complain about working overtime. The more demand, the more technology and the greater the productivity — a very slippery slope indeed.

Productivity is a good barometer of a nation’s well-being — I totally agree if well-being means an all-time high stock market, tons of cash in the corporate coffers, and ever-increasing earnings per share, then most assuredly we are very well-off. However, if well-being is measured by the lack of employment for recent college graduates, the record number of food stamp recipients, and the unprecedented level of folks living on the street, then productivity has created a nation that’s clearly gone over the edge.


Bill Tatro

Along with his 40-years of dedication in the financial services industry, Bill is the President and CEO of GPSforLife, has recently authored a highly successful book entitled 44th: A Presidential Conspiracy, publishes his dynamic monthly financial newsletter MacroProfit, and faithfully continues his third decade on the radio with It’s All About Money, which can be heard weekdays on Money Radio in Phoenix and in podcast form on his website (and on smartphone apps) published at billtatro.com weekdays at 5pm Eastern. Bill can be reached via email at bill@gpsforlife.com and on Twitter @tatroshow.