EVERYONE complains that corporate America is reluctant to hire additional workers. Far less attention has been paid to the flip side of the jobless recovery: the remarkable improvement in American productivity. How long can this continue? I see no limit, says William Hickey, the boss of Sealed Air, a packaging-maker. Is he right to be so optimistic?
企业不愿再增加雇佣量在美国引起民怨沸腾。但很少有人关注减少失业率的有效途径：显著提升美国的劳动生产率水平。这种提升能持续多久？包装材料制造商宝廷的老总William Hickey 说：依我看来可无限期提升。他的这种乐观估计是对还是错？
American firms were slow to react to the downturn at the beginning of the century, and paid the price. They learned their lesson. When the economy slumped in 2008, they were much quicker to adjust. There was little of the fall in labour productivity that normally accompanies a recession, and this was not just a one-off batting average effect (in which average productivity rises because the worst performers are fired). Rather, it was a productivity boost that has continued in defiance of expert predictions that workers can only be squeezed so hard for a short while.
After falling in the first half of the year, American labour productivity (output per hour) was 2.3% higher in the third quarter of 2011 than in the same period a year earlier. This was the fastest quarterly rise in 18 months. Manufacturing productivity in that quarter rose by 2.9% compared with a year earlier. America’s productivity growth has been more robust than most other rich countries’—a feat many ascribe to its flexible labour market and a culture of enterprise.
Yet some analysts expect productivity growth to stall soon. Hard-pressed workers are feeling grouchy: workforce surveys report record levels of job dissatisfaction. Many firms have been starving the organisation to see how it can do with a lower cost structure, says Carsten Stendevad of Citigroup, a bank. Unless the economy picks up, he predicts that productivity growth will slow in 2012. (He admits, however, that he wrongly predicted the same thing would happen in 2011.)
但有些分析师认为生产率不久将停止增长。重重压力令产业工人们牢骚不断：劳动力调查显示出对工作表示不满的人数创了纪录。Citigroup银行的Carsten Stendevad说，很多公司正忍饥挨饿，以 测试自身在低成本状态下的生存能力。他预计，只要经济形势没有好转，2012年生产率增长就会放缓（但他也承认自己曾错误地对2011年的情况做过同样的判断）。
Two things could keep productivity rising. First, workers are terrified of losing their jobs. This makes it easier to persuade them to put in extra hours or shoulder new tasks. Even in unionised firms, there have been reports of greater flexibility. Workers have been staying on the job longer rather than featherbedding their hours by, for example, queuing up early to clock off as soon as the shift ends.