Working Smarter

Productivity is the art of turning out the most goods with the least amount of labor and materials, and productivity figures are among the most important gauges of an economy's health. Beginning in the late 19th century, for example, the yearly rise in the productivity of England, then the world's foremost industrial nation, was just slightly less (1%) than that of its industrial rivals, chiefly the U.S. and Germany. But by the mid-20th century that seemingly small difference proved to be enough to tumble England from its previously undisputed industrial predominance.

Once a hallmark of American industry, productivity improvement in recent years...

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