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Worker Earnings and Worker Productivity: Some History

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post from back on September 26, 2012; it’s posted here at the Cafe for the first time:

In his column today Harold Meyerson writes that “The only time in U.S. history when workers substantially benefited from productivity gains was the three decades that followed World War II” (“Redistributing wealth upward,” Sept. 26).

In his highly regarded 1984 book, The Americans: An Economic Record, celebrated economic historian Stanley Lebergott wrote that “worker earnings from 1870 to 1940 advanced as much as net product per person employed did.”* That is, the time in U.S. history when workers substantially benefitted from productivity gains includes also the entire 70 years leading up to World War II.

Mr. Meyerson needs a refresher course in economic history.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Stanley Lebergott, The Americans: An Economic Record (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984), p. 379.