By Alexander J. Field Ph.D.
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Additional resources for A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth
The concluding chapter explores, looking particularly at railroads in the 1930s, whether depression can have a beneficial impact on long-run productivity growth. On balance, a boom/bust cycle is likely to impact long-run TFP growth negatively, but the dynamics engendered are mixed in their effects, and the answer to the question posed is nuanced: there can be positive influences. In particular, while much of the strong productivity performance of railroads during the Depression can be attributed to spillovers from street and highway construction, as described in chapters 1 and 2, some resulted directly from the sheer shock of adversity generated by the prolonged economic downturn.
Labor productivity growth is critical in understanding improvement in the material standard of living, as measured by per capita output. Output per employee hour is not the same as output per capita—they have different denominators and may grow at different rates because of changes in labor force participation or the number of hours worked per person. But over the long run it is impossible to have a sustained increase in output per capita without a sustained increase in output per hour. That is one reason why we pay so much attention to labor productivity.
899). There was thus little net gain over the war years. This should be contrasted with a trajectory of rapid gains that might otherwise have persisted through the first half of the 1940s. Finally, even if we set aside the difficulties in valuing wartime output (Higgs 1992), part of the apparent increase in output per hour was the consequence of the shift of output toward sectors that had traditionally experienced higher value added per worker. Labor productivity for the economy as a whole would have increased as a consequence of this reallocation alone even if there had been no improvement in productive efficiency in any individual sector (see Evans 1947).