The productivity dilemma

Picture from Flickr by Abhijit Bhaduri

The low level of productivity in the UK has become a hot topic in recent years. Simplistically it sounds as though workers are not working hard enough – all we need to do is crack the whip a little, people will knuckle down and work harder and the problem will go away.

However a slightly more sophisticated analysis than that normally offered by politicians or the tabloids suggests that one element in this failure to improve productivity is actually a side-effect of the country’s success in achieving high levels of employment – a lot of the new employment is in the low-skilled service sector and “gig economy”, where individuals typically don’t generate much revenue per hour, for themselves or anyone else.

And therein lies the dilemma. Which do we want – full employment (even where many of those jobs leave people still on benefits) or high value-add for those employed, but higher unemployment?

I’m not normally short of opinion, but I really don’t know the answer on this one. Is having a job such a noble aspiration when that job is exploitative?

On the other side of the argument, I know at first hand that a lot of revenue is being lost at the moment while people like me with high levels of skill and potential revenue generation are left outside the world of employment, partly by choice and partly as a result of various forms of discrimination.