SOME COUNTRIES PRODUCE SO MUCH MORE OUTPUT PER WORKER THAN OTHERS: Introduction

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In 1988, output per worker in the United States was more than 35 times higher than output per worker in Niger. In just over ten days, the average worker in the United States produced as much as an average worker in Niger produced in an entire year. Explaining such vast differences in economic performance is one of the fundamental challenges of economics. easy payday loans online

Analysis based on an aggregate production function provides some insight into these differences, an approach taken by Mankiw, Romer and Weil (1992) and Dougherty and Jorgenson (1996), among others. Differences among countries can be attributed to differences in human capital, physical capital, and productivity. Building on their analysis, our results suggest that differences in each element of the production function are important. In particular, however, our results emphasize the key role played by productivity. For example, consider the 35-fold difference in output per worker between the United States and Niger. Different capital intensities in the two countries contributed a factor of 1.5 to the income differences, while different levels of educational attainment contributed a factor of 3.1. The remaining difference — a factor of 7.7 — remains as the productivity residual.

The breakdown suggested by the aggregate production function is just the first step in understanding differences in output per worker. Findings in the production function framework raise deeper questions such as: Why do some countries invest more than others in physical and human capital? And why are some countries so much more productive than others? These are the questions that this paper tackles. When aggregated through the production function, the answers to these questions add up to explain the differences in output per worker across countries.