Industrial Insight

good stuff | July 13, 2010

Misallocating Resources

John P. Hussman, Ph.D.

Question. Why do workers in developing nations earn a fraction of the wages American workers earn? While protective and regulatory factors such as trade barriers, unionization, and differences in labor laws have some effect, the main reason is fairly simple. U.S. workers are, on average, more productive than their counterparts in developing countries. While the gap between U.S. and foreign wages can make open trade seem very risky, it is simply not true that opening trade with developing nations must result in a convergence of wages. The large difference in relative wages is in fact a competitive outcome when there are large differences in worker productivity across countries.

The main source of this difference in productivity is that U.S. workers have a substantially larger stock of productive capital per worker, as well as generally higher levels of educational attainment, which is a form of human capital. This relative abundance of physical and educational capital has been a driver of U.S. prosperity for generations. Neither advantage in capital, however, is intrinsic to American workers, and it will be impossible to prevent a long-term convergence of U.S. wages toward those of developing countries unless the U.S. efficiently allocates its resources to productive investment and educational quality. This is where our policy makers are failing us.

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About author

I'm the executive vice president for a steel casting trade association, the Steel Founders' Society of America. I've got a crazy wife, five crazy children, three crazy people that married into the family, and two crazy fun little grandsons.







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