Is Government “Output” And “Productivity” An Oxymoron?

Please don’t go bored on me now. I’ll post videos later for your entertainment. For now, though, here’s some food for thought: can government “output” and “productivity” be accurately compared with manufacturing output and productivity? Better yet, it there any such thing as government “output” (other than license plates and other products made by inmates.)?

A couple weeks ago, blogger David Hansen posted a blurb about government employment eclipsing manufacturing employment.

A few days ago, he supplemented the post with another post with some graphs comparing manufacturing and government from the perspective of output and particularly productivity.

Ohio Productivity Growth                     Ohio GSP

Hansen concluded from his graphs that, while “manufacturers continue to empower their employees with the tools and techniques that allow them to produce more and more value”, “government’s productivity remains virtually unchanged, insulated if you will, from the forces driving productivity increases on the part of the private sector.”

“[W]hat good,” he asks, “does it do to improve the productivity of Ohio’s private sector when government simply grows in size without the least bit of productivity improvement?

He sums it up: “The government our private economy pays for must improve its productivity. When it doesn’t, it costs the rest of us missed growth and prosperity.”


I included the post on a newsletter and received the following comment from a reader:

I’m fascinated by “More on Government, Manufacturing and Productivity.”

Government productivity is an oxymoron. This isn’t just a put down it’s a truism.

Productivity in the classical economic sense is “adding value.” If a teacher sits in a classroom all day doing nothing and the students learn nothing, are we to say that there is productivity? Conversely, how do we measure the added value of the efforts of an outstanding teacher? Maybe a teacher with a larger class is more productive, whether the students learn anything or not.

What about a clerk at city hall who processes building permits? If they process more permits per hour than they did before are they more productive? Did they add any value?

Is a police officer who issues more speeding tickets more productive than one who just sits in his cruiser eating donuts?

Perhaps government productivity could be measured in collecting or spending tax dollars.

All seriousness aside, what did you use as a measure of government productivity?

David Denholm

Any thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Is Government “Output” And “Productivity” An Oxymoron?”

  1. It’s a great thought. However, I think you would need to redefine productivity.

    Productivity in the eyes of the government should be a lack there of. Government’s purpose is not to sit and pass nonsense laws all day long which will never be enforced. Which is more or less what we’re doing now.

    The smaller a government is, and the less work it does, makes the lives of all citizens better by letting citizens run their own lives instead of the ‘authority’ making our decisions for us.

    The government we have now kind of reminds me of my old jewish boss (he kind of looks like Kramer from Seinfeld if that gives you a better mental picture) who would put a 1/4 oz of cocaine up his nose a day. After he got high in the morning he’d run around the office in a crazed frenzy micromanaging everyone. I ended up quitting from that company after about 2 years. I found out later that over the course of the few years after I had quit they went down the shitter and are currently close to filing bankruptcy.

  2. Your perspective on the proper form of government is one of the few things we agree on so far. I don’t know how to make it smaller, but it would definitely be better that way.

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