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Working Paper No. 998 | January 2022

Technology and Productivity

A Critique of Aggregate Indicators
Economic analysts have used trends in total factor productivity (TFP) to evaluate the effectiveness with which economies are utilizing advances in technology. However, this measure is problematic on several different dimensions. First, the idea that it is possible to separate out the relative contribution to economic output of labor, capital, and technology requires ignoring their complex interdependence in actual production. Second, since TFP growth has declined in recent decades in all of the developed market societies, there is good reason to believe that the decline is an artifact of the slower rates of economic growth that are linked to austerity policies. Third, reliance on TFP assumes that measures of gross domestic product are accurately capturing changes in economic output, even as the portion of the labor force producing tangible goods has declined substantially. Finally, there are other indicators that suggest that current rates of technological progress might be as strong or stronger than in earlier decades.

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