The productivity puzzle has long been a thorn in the side of both economists and policymakers, particularly in the US. Despite ever-tighter labor markets, productivity growth has slowed. If our resources are not driving the innovation to enable better utilization of our resources, what are they spending their time doing?
We may have found our answer in the pop hit song ‘Despacito’.
Spanish for ‘slow’ or ‘slowly’, Despacito’s rise in popularity has been anything but slow. In just six months, Despacito has taken the title of most streamed track of all time. The original track from Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi and rapper Daddy Yankee and the remix featuring Justin Bieber have clocked more than 4.6 billion plays, a meteoric rise generating a ton of hype.
But what does that mean in real terms? At 3.47 minutes long, people have spent over 266 million hours – over 30,000 years – listening to the track. So what does this have to do with productivity growth? Perhaps everything, or nothing at all, we’re not here to claim that we’ve solved the puzzle plaguing the greatest minds in economics for years.
Productivity growth can be defined as more is being done with less resources, which is vital for long-term growth of the economy. In the time spent listening to Despacito over the last six months, we could have built the Palace at Westminster, two White Houses, 12 Burj Khalifas, and 15 Eiffel Towers.
Economists and policymakers have long been concerned with this conundrum. Just this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics asserts that “the United States is in one of its slowest-growth periods since the end of WWII”. Expansion of the labor force will like temper in the coming years as the birthrate declines, making productivity improvements vital.
Despite the leaps and bounds of technological innovation, we’ve stalled on turning that into a vehicle to drive productivity in the economy as a whole. If technology is rapidly advancing and the labor market tightening, why is productivity not picking up?
It’s been suggested that acceleration is uneven across various sectors, weighed down by a distinct lack of accelerating sectors. Perhaps we’re not putting our time and technology to the right use? While we’d love to make some sweeping claim that music streaming is killing productivity growth, we haven’t made the leap to solving the productivity dilemma quite yet. We’re shedding a moment of lighthearted relief to an enormously complex issue.
While we leave you with these thoughts, here’s that song one more time… Despacito.
3.47 minutes long
15,962,000,000 minutes total, equal to
266,033,333 man hours