Productivity Problems: Is ‘Shunning Technology’ Really the Main Villain?

Andy Kessler, a very smart and generally insightful guy, has a recent WSJ column titled ‘The is One Puzzling Job Market’ and subtitled ‘Why has productivity lagged for so long? Because huge sectors shunned technology.’

This assertion doesn’t feel right to me.  In the case of the healthcare industry, for example, Kessler says “Medicine is unproductive. It’s a doctor-intensive chronic-disease-treatment business. But with prevention and diagnostics to find disease early, perhaps we’d need fewer oncologists and cardiac surgeons.” Perhaps, but it’s not as if diagnostics–mammograms, for example–have been ignored.  Prevention can involve, for example, better diets and obesity reduction–these things are really more about accurate science, proper statistical analysis, and honest and effective public communication than they are about technology per se.

A major technology initiative in healthcare of the the last decade or two has been the wide use of electronic medical records.  While these do have considerable potential, the current implementation reality is different.  I don’t think I have ever heard or read a physician or other healthcare professionals who had anything good to say about these systems.  The perceived productivity impact is negative.

It is certainly true that telemedicine has great potential for productivity improvements, and also probably for better paytient outcomes, since it makes it far easier to get an appointment than is the case with traditional practice approaches.  But some of the same advantages can also come from local clinics with an emphasis on quick availability and more use of nurse practitioners and other alternatives to the need to see physicians for every visit.

As another example of an industry with poor productivity, Kessler cites education.  I think we can agree on the poor productivity. But is the problem really lack of technology? How about the massive administrative overheads, the insistence on instructional methods that don’t work very well (in teaching reading, for example), and the overweening power of the teachers’ unions?  Indeed, schools have been quite eager to spend money on ‘technology’.   The kind of projects that Michael Schrage referred to as ‘sparkly tools’ will not do much good until these other problems are addressed.

In transportation, there are indeed technology improvements that can be made in air traffic control and, for railroads, in rail car tracking and hot-bearing detection to prevent derailments, for example.  But there are also physical infrastructure issues–no matter how great your air traffic control system is, an airport’s capacity is going to be limited by the number of parallel runways, and, in some wind conditions, the availability of crosswind runways.  There are also management and process issues–in freight rail, for example, is the current vogue employment of very long trains, now under the banner of ‘precision scheduled railroading’, really a good idea from the standpoints of productivity and market growth?

Kessler says:  “Bell Labs invented the transistor in 1948, but its parent, AT&T,  had 10 to 20 years of old vacuum-tube inventory and so delayed using transistors.”  This claim makes no sense to me.  I can’t imagine that any company, even AT&T would have built up a 10-20 year inventory of just about any commodity, let alone inventory of items in a field which was already known for rapid change.  And early transistors weren’t cheap, and did have their limitations.

There is indeed an apparent paradox when you consider all the technological improvements of recent years–and then look at the productivity numbers.  But I suspect that much of the cause for this disconnect will be found in:

Mediocre or outright bad management. There is a tremendous amount of wasted motion and effort in a lot of organizations today. There’s always some of this, of course, but my sense is that it’s been getting worse, rather than better.  See for example this article about Google, written by a guy whose startup was acquired by that company.

Google has 175,000+ capable and well-compensated employees who get very little done quarter over quarter, year over year. Like mice, they are trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, legal reviews, performance reviews, exec reviews, documents, meetings, bug reports, triage, OKRs, H1 plans followed by H2 plans, all-hands summits, and inevitable reorgs. 

Unwise mergers and acquisitions.  Although company combinations can be beneficial, too often they are done under sets of assumptions that turn out to be, shall we say, optimistic.  How much productivity is lost as a result of all the legal and finance work done to enable these combinations and in the organizational disruption that often follows?  (And then, in some cases, to unwind them via a spinout?)

Excessive regulation, particularly ideologically-driven regulation.  In Washington, DC, childcare workers will now be required to have associates’ degrees.  There are many other examples of pointless education and training requirements.  And the ‘industrial strategy’ programs favored by the Biden administration are very likely to direct resources into politically-favored…but not particularly productive..companies and entire industries.

Bad technology implementations.  There are a lot of examples of technology implementations that seemed promising, but resulted in either complete failure or marginal…if any…productivity gains.  Often, there problems are a result of failing to systematically think about the overall business process and the potential people problems involved.  See the sad story of Target Canada, and Zeynep Ton’s description of retail inventory systems that carry meaningless balances because the work of the checkers, and the way in which the feedback loop from goods availability to sales numbers worked, is not properly understood.

There are certainly many technologies now available, and becoming available, that can greatly enhance productivity.  But it is difficult for any technology or combination of technologies to improve productivity enough to overcome the drag of the structural problems sketched about..and many others.  As Lewis Carroll said, we must run as fast as we can just to stay in place, and if we want to go anywhere, we must run twice as fast as that.  Unless we do something about the sources of the persistent backward motion.

Your thoughts on productivity and technology?

36 thoughts on “Productivity Problems: Is ‘Shunning Technology’ Really the Main Villain?”

  1. Very interesting article and thank you for binging it on.

    What my thing about the PC that invented 50 years ago, Bill Gate accusing car manufacturer been not up to spreed with the technology this before EV cars he said we should by now see cars run on one letter of patrol that using big full tack and there environmental impacts

  2. I know the health care tech system all too well.

    EHRs have as their primary task the upcoding of everything so that reimbursement is better for your organization. They do improve the availability of information – again, within your organization – but this is a secondary goal.

    What you end up with is a raft of trivial nonsense with a smattering of useful info here and there. It cannot compare to the old school system of a physician thinking…and then putting their thoughts and game plan onto paper. Walls of menus. Click, click, click….did you really take a look at their toenails? Is “family history” really negative or did you only ask a superficial question or two? It is nice to have prior scans, lab tests in chrono order etc. Not that these always get looked at….usually it is order first and check to see if it was done last week later. Or not at all.

    When you try to get info from other organizations, even those using the same software, you just can’t do it. Privacy issues and all.

    The solution of course, as proposed by Kesslerians, would be a gigantic health care entity with access to All. The VA health care system is held up as a prototype for One System to Rule them All. Their EHR is actually no worse than any other. Well maybe a bit worse. GIGO and fewer thoughtful “providers”.

    As to educational tech spending it is usually a straight up swindle. Spending other people’s money to enrich the preferred vendors while buying near obsolete stuff that will need to be replaced in a couple of years.

    The educational system needs to be put on the low calorie fat free diet that the health care system has been trying to put America on for decades. It is about as likely to happen.


  3. Older industries are going to see productivity gains much more slowly. How much more yield per acre do we think we are going to see on wheat? How much improvement are we expecting in tires? Education has been around a long time, and even universal public education has been around for a long time. Don’t expect anything more than marginal improvements in any aspect of that unless there is a serious paradigm shift. For example, phones had slow improvement as long as everything was tied to your wall and the poles. Once that changed, there was a huge improvement in phones.

    As for bureaucratic drag, we are the oldest democratic government in the world. I think – following Samo Burja and Pournelle’s Law – an increasing amount is simply inevitable, given human nature. We might have too much and be able to slow it down, but in ten years, or fifty, or two hundred years there is going to be more bureaucratic drag. I suppose we can hope for some dramatic,shift in how all government business is done, but that sounds like it has to have a catastrophe attached.

    It is for this reason I think that entire agencies need to be sunsetted, even though the government will shift the functions around and keep a lot of the same people and drags in place. It won’t help that much and it will be disruptive in unpredictable ways, but I still think it would be work it.

  4. David,

    I like your post but as far as the guy you linked to, Any Kessler, not so much. Why don’t you have his job?

    That sounds harsh and I’ll take your word for it that he’s a smart guy but how is he able to write a supposedly serious piece about productivity and not cite a single relevant statistic? I know he’s probably at a word count but still, just one to prove his point? Alot of hackneyed cliches… I’m surprised that he didn’t propose the solution was “to move our value into the white apace of the enterprise”

    Two problems with his approach, both show the pitfalls in measuring productivity.

    First he picks service sectors for analysis, it’s always much harder to analyze service sector productivity as opposed to manufacturing or commodities because the units of output tend to vary over time and this is especially true for education and health care. He sees the teacher-student ratio as remaining constant reflecting stagnant productivity but why? If productivity is a relationship between output and input why is he focusing only on inputs? How would he measure outputs? By graduation rate? Proficiency in standardized testing?

    I was involved technology, education, and leadership initiatives for education since just about the time I was able to (legally) drink, and from about day 2 of my involvement I became very cynical about where technology would get us in public education; I don’t think I’m the only one.

    Health care? What’s he measuring? Total cost per person? With an aging population where costs per patient go up dramatically past a certain age? You wont more productivity in health care, go to Canada where your costs are much lower but you also wait times for specialists and MRIs that can be more than a year long.

    You know what education and health care have in common? They are both heavily subsidized and regulated by the government and that has gone up consistently over time. I think your ideas of poor productivity linked to poor management is more meaningful.

    Statistics for operational purposes should be scrutinized by 3 basic criteria: What are you trying to measure? Is what you are measuring consistent over time? Why should I care (is the statistic meaningful to an effective decision)? Of course it’s hard to apply those criteria here to Kessler because he doesn’t even cite any statistics. His use of hackneyed cliches is more relevant to a drunken discussion in a bar or a (sober) staff meeting than an article in the WSJ,.

    Your mention’s of Ton’s examples regarding Home Depot that struck a chord with me based on my work experience there. The front-line hourly associate in he HD stores has been enabled by technology to have tremendous insight into both customer-facing information such as inventory levels and locations and granular sales data for decision-making. I have a lot of problems with Home Depot but putting technology like that directly onto the sales floor isn’t one of them. What I do have a problem with the use of the technology is that instead of supporting a superior business model, it was instead used to enable a model more akin to a Wal-Mart with lumber. In other words technology was used to replace labor costs rather than increase productivity (as measured by sales by transaction count or employee) because management decided that labor (even in a minimum wage+ job) was a P&L line to be squeezed rather than an asset to be invested. It is (or was for me) a serious problem of mismanagement that stretches all the way from Atlanta to the store aisle.

  5. “Excessive regulation, particularly ideologically-driven regulation.”

    That is the heart of the problem right there. Too many highly paid bureaucrats and lawyers throwing sand in the gears. Also, the wrong kinds of regulation — not enough pro-competition, not enough border control.

    Sadly, things will have to get much worse before there is a hope of them getting better. History assures us that there will indeed by a collapse. And in a couple of generations, things will be getting better again.

  6. AVI…Kessler is referring to *labor* productivity, I think, so the relevant metrics would be crop yield per farming man-hour or tires per time-company man hour.

    Labor productivity is usually thought of in terms of direct labor, ie, factory workers, store employees, construction on-site workers, etc….but “overhead” costs have become increasingly important, even dominant. More on this later.

  7. it’s always much harder to analyze service sector productivity as opposed to manufacturing or commodities because the units of output tend to vary over time and this is especially true for education and health care.

    Education is hopeless. I sent my kids to private schools because I could afford it but, from what I hear, private schools are adopting the same destructive ideology. My middle daughter graduated 8th grade from a private Episcopal school. I got a call from a parent telling me that the school had hired a new “Headmaster” who was devoted to equal outcomes, now called “equity.” This was some time ago, maybe 30 years. The parents complained en masse. A member of the Board came to a parents’ meeting and told them that, if they didn’t like it, they could take their kids elsewhere. The following fall, I saw ads in the local throwaway for that school. The parents took her at her word.

    I retired before the EHR came along but had some experience with it when teaching medical students for 15 years. Before Obamacare made it mandatory, or you would lose some Medicare payment, I was an enthusiast and even belonged to the national society. The implementation resembled the implementation of Obamacare. For example, one version I saw required a diagnosis be entered first, before any other data. That diagnosis could not be changed or deleted. It resembles the Red Queen. “Verdict first, trial after !”

    As for cardiac surgery and heart disease in general, the government promulgated a “food pyramid” that was based on an erroneous theory of heart disease. A study during the Korean War of autopsies of KIAs showed a high incidence or coronary disease. This was a shock as most KIAs were 20 or 21. Another flawed study was done about the same time feeding rabbits meat. They got coronary disease. Rabbits are vegetarians. The result was the cholesterol-devil theory and the adoption of high carb diets which gave us the explosion in type II diabetes. Nobody was interested in smoking as a cause until after 1950.

    I agree that things will get worse, especially now that Medical Schools are dropping all standards in favor of “equity.” I quit teaching at the right time.

  8. re Overhead: if you make another million tires of the same type, then the human labor involved is charged under Cost of Goods Sold. But if to make your incremental million tires you need to develop a new tire type, then the engineering and marketing effort required will be categorized under ‘Operating Expense’.

    So, to the extent that innovation is required to grow output…either research/engineering innovation or marketing/channel innovation…’overhead’ labor will increase as well as direct labor costs.

  9. Someone told me about an EHR at the hospital where she worked: a new system was implemented to replace 3 separate systems for Emergency, Maternity, and General with a single consolidated system. The result was that someone entering data for a woman in the maternity ward would have to respond to a question about the patient’s prostate.

    It was apparently quite a debacle…both the CTO and CEO were fired, which is too rare an outcome in such cases.

  10. As a retired design engineer I can safely say that the advent of the personal computer engendered some of the biggest productivity increases for both design (CAD systems) and engineering (calculations).

    As just one example, I’ll use the sizing of a simple in-duct pipe heat exchanger. Doing the necessary calculations involved looking at the air flows both inside and outside the pipe, calculating Reynolds numbers and corresponding Nusselt numbers, calculating the heat transfer coefficients for the air-to-pipe walls, as well as the trivial pipe wall thermal resistance, and then doing a log-mean-temperature-difference (LMTD) calculation to find the necessary length of pipe. Lots of table look-ups. It was typically about 8 pages of calculations taking around 6 hours.

    When we acquired PC’s for each engineer, a process which took much longer than it should have, thanks to a management’s reluctant to spend the money, it was one of the first spreadsheets I put together. It took at least 20 hours to put it all there, including turning tabular data into curves for which I could run a regression fit and then generate an equation, and then to run several examples based on hand-calculations already performed.

    But when it was done (and documented, something that’s not usually done) anyone could take the customer data, put it into the spreadsheet, and get a result within 5 minutes. The use of a simple spreadsheet on a PC offered a time savings of a factor of more than 1/72nd (5 minutes = 1/12th hour, vs. 6 hours). It turned a most-of-the-day calculation (and cost estimate) into a trivial exercise.

    This was typical of the types of calculations that, once they had been set up, reduced the engineering time to perform them to almost nothing. The time spent in setting up the spreadsheet in this example paid for itself in the first four proposals done, not to mention the improved customer satisfaction in reducing the time necessary for a quote.

    Since no one bothers to measure these increases in productivity they’re probably not assessed or even noticed by those outside the field. The bean-counters in upper management simply get confused looks when you mention improvements like that.

  11. Blackwing1…these productivity improvements should show up in the overall reported labor productivity numbers, which are defined as real GDP divided by hours worked of all employees.

    There are many, many examples of technologies which had a dramatic impact on reducing labor requirements–the fact that the overall numbers are so bad indicates to me that there are also strong *negative* productivity forces in play.

  12. “Andy Kessler, a very smart and generally insightful guy” And then you take everything he said apart. To be clear, I very much agree with you and not him.

    First example: Medicine has been pushing the early detection, better outcomes model for a long time. From the point of the patient, there’s trade off, some number have been spared a long lingering death while others have lost months of their life and thousands of dollars and hours in various offices and suites to learn the difference between specificity and sensitivity. From the point of the whole health system and saving money, it’s a disaster. Turns out, the more you look, the more you find. The more you find, the more it costs to eliminate the false positives.

    You see this in the case of mammography a where shadow can prompt thousands of dollars in tests to confirm or deny that a cancer exists. Thus you get the vicious arguments over just when this should become routine, the earlier you start, the more you spend on useless tests. For men the PSA test is the same with the added complication that even when an actual cancer is found, a large proportion will never cause any real problem.

    When was the last time you heard of some acquisition for “synergy” that actually worked?

  13. Notice the point about excessive medical testing — from the viewpoint of the patient, someone else is usually paying for it (through insurance). If something is free or nearly free, let’s have it!

    The decision loop is broken. And the insurance requires massive numbers of well-paid people who add no value, simple allocate costs.

    While some things classified as Overhead are necessary and do add value, overhead workers (and most of the legal profession) are the primary reason for low economy-wide productivity.

  14. On the subject of management quality: Several recent articles say that Meta (Facebook) has been giving thousands of employees ‘subpar performance ratings’ in preparation for massive job cuts.

    Layoffs and terminations for poor performance are not the same thing. Layoffs are something you do when you don’t need the work anymore (in some companies, layoffs have actually been called ‘lack of work’, or, in Brit-speak, ‘redundancies’) or that you can’t afford it (the work). Terminations for poor performance are something you (should) do as appropriate at all times, even when you are hiring rapidly.

    Conflating layoffs with performance terminations is unprofessional and harmful.

  15. If they want anyone to believe that those “ratings” are anything but CYA, there had better be more than one quarter of bad. Facebook is famous or infamous, depending on you point of view, for being programmed in PHP so the laid off programmers will not be able to claim competence in the flavor of the week.

    “Conflating layoffs with performance terminations is unprofessional and harmful.”- Pretty much my opinion of Facebook in general. More to the point, the difference is probably a lot more than a couple of weeks severance, I’ll bet there are millions in stock options that will or will not vest. Oh, to be a Silicon Valley employment lawyer in the Spring, when all the big fish are laying off. We’re talking Gulf Steam money here.

  16. In BC we have our Provincial medical system, a part of Canada’s medical system, with its own peculiarities due to our generally more socialistic take on things.

    It has saved my life twice. Recently from prostate cancer, and I am very impressed with it, and its implementation. I can access all of my treatment and test results from MyHealthBC and all of my blood test results from LifeLabs, online whenever I want. My treatment while in hospital was absolutely wonderful, and as I don’t pay for any of this I always volunteer as a training dummy for the student nurses. Mostly practice on sticking IVs into people and I do enjoy being somewhat useful while I am there. As well I play straight man to the various comedians that nurses and staff provide, as humour is useful where there is so much pain and fear.

    They are not having a good time, as so many have quit after the Covid debacle, and lack of staff is the biggest problems they face now. They are working so hard, and overtime is very common to fill the holes in our staffing.

    Productivity is almost impossible in a hospital. You have sick people needing care, and that requires people to do that. Making systems work better is about all you can do, and all that does is allow the various practitioners, to do the filing and data storage more easily. That is not trivial, but its not much towards real productivity.

  17. Worked for a reporting team in a large company. About three to four times a year the database loading team would cancel the monthly load jobs. A process that had been around far too long required two guys on the reporting team to submit ad hoc requests to Operations to run our team’s reports and data collection files for customers. This process took about fourteen hours each for the two. I suggested a process improvement several times, and was shot down as “if the loading team would just add ‘xyz’ it would solve our problems”. However, the loading team had no interest in doing this. I received a project with too many estimated hours, so I used it to create the core to my fix – as I could use it as part of the job stream of the new job. Then, as time went along, I added the fix onto existing jobs whenever there they were being updated – which added about a minute to actual coding hours. Once everything was in place, what used to take two guys a combined total of twenty eight hours could now be done by one guy over about six hours.
    Once the results of this change became obvious to management they marveled at how good it was…even though they had continually shot it down before.
    Management has problems, and I’ve heard/read about similar things in other companies and industries.

  18. The decision loop is broken. And the insurance requires massive numbers of well-paid people who add no value, simple allocate costs.

    This is my chief gripe about health insurance. Insurance companies HATE health insurance. For years it was a near loser except for employer funded plans in which the insurance company was only an “administrative services” provider. That is why they supported Obamacare. In fact, I believe their lobbyists wrote most of it. I know a number of physicians who have dropped all insurance and practice for cash. It cuts their overhead by 50% or more. There have been a number of attempts to develop plans that cover only major interventions, much as health insurance once did in the 1950s. Claims processing for office visits is insanity.

  19. Technology isn’t even the answer to the hardest problems.

    Back when Bill Gates was just an insufferable rich a-hole and before he became an insufferable rich fascist a-hole. He had the arguably altruistic and possibly plausible idea that he could use some of his money to solve problems in Africa.

    The first target of his largess was the eradication of malaria, as if that notion hadn’t come up before. So far, malaria has proven refractory to his money.

    His other initiative: dysentery. In contrast to malaria, this is a problem with a known solution. Gates’ solution was a high tech toilet that was saved from being a complete parody by the absence of a Windows logo and a subscription to Office 365. The real answer requires no solar cells, no electronics, no computer.

    The real answer is to keep human and animal waste out of the drinking water supply. The animal part comes down to fencing and grazing management. The human component is pit latrines, where to put them and especially where not to.

    That’s the easy part. The hard part, that will require years of unglamorous effort, is to convince people that have been dropping trou and squatting wherever the urge arose, that fewer dead babies are worth the trouble of using them.

    A year or so ago, I heard that there was an algae bloom taking place in San Francisco Bay. The cause was a great mystery. I searched in vane for someone to remember that San Francisco, where you can be fined excessively for not picking up your doggy poo, had been routinely hosing the effluent from all its unhoused lunatics and street drug epicures into the storm drains for a while by then, and making the connection. I hereby propose a new nickname for San Francisco; Mogadishu by the Bay.

  20. For people that claim that Apple isn’t on the leading edge, I just read that IOS is going to come with 31 new emojis. Talk about technical innovation, the future is here.

  21. I had a minor operation in 2006, and noticed that the nurse who came over to check on me kept typing into a terminal. I asked about it and she complained that due to govt regulations they spend over half their time on the keyboard.

    As far as public schools, yes, the teacher’s unions are the main impediment. Well, that and an overbearing bureaucracy, at least in CA.

    California public schools used to be the envy of the nation, and it is no coincidence that their decline parallels the rise of the teacher’s unions.

  22. Bill, I am so old I can remember when California had the best highways. Jerry Brown took care of that and destroyed much of the remaining legacy of his father,.

  23. Back in the early ’90’s, my dad spent about 5-1/2 weeks in the medical ICU of the Dallas VA and about 3 weeks in the coronary ICU after his bypass. When he was transferred back to our “home” VA for the rest of his recovery, his record went with him. For virtually the whole time, his nurses explained that he was on 1:1; which meant that a nurse was either working on his needs or sitting at the foot of his bed filling out paper. There was 2:1 too. His record was about five file cabinet drawers.

    While my dad was in the ICU, I was spending the time except for 15 minutes every other hour in the waiting room. While I was sitting there, with the other families, there were a group of business suited people that were in the process of piloting the EMR in the ICU. The nearest pay phones, remember those, were in the waiting room and this was how they communicated with the mother house. I couldn’t help but overhear a lot of anguished discussions. At that time, the workstations were computer, monitor, power source all mounted on an over sized hat rack on wheels. Real cutting edge. They must have worked things out in the end, I understand that the VA EMR was well thought of initially.

    At that time, I don’t think I had even seen an Ethernet card and if my memory is right, they cost around $1,000 each. Wireless networking didn’t exist except for proprietary, slow and expensive radio modems. I’m sure those terminals cost well into five figures then, a decent new car.

  24. Exercises has been pushed for 25+ years as way of increasing productivity in health care and instead as several commenters stated we have turned highly trained medical personnel into clerks pushing paper and keeping records. Hardly a productive use of resources, productivity as a.KPI is a.good.measure but

    You see the grumbling in education.where teachers see themselves as highly trained specialists being constrained by mandated testing. However when I hear these arguments I ask them how would they justify to taxpayers that they are sufficiently educating students, we have been dealing with this in Arizona since the 1990s. The reason we have AiMS and No Child Left Behind is that there little confidence the schools are performing. Schools were warned about this, as I learned in my youth a state legislator told us “you need to fix this you don’t want us to get involved. ”

    If you want an example of political sqishiness look at what former Republican governor Larry Hogan told Duck Todd yesterday when the former criticized DeSantis for getting involved in K-12 management, apparently Hogan feels states should provide the money and leave management exclusively to local school. I am not sure what percentage of Maryland school budgets are state aid but given the national average is around 46%, that’s alot of money. The only insight Maryland taxpayers have into if that money is well spent is standardized testing,and Maryland students grades 3 – 8 scored 33% proficiency in math (pre-pandemic !Maryland’s solution is to throw billions more at schools through its Blueprint for Maryland.33% proficiency and you get rewarded with more money why would you reform?

    The situation is going to get worse. There was mounting pressure before 2020 to get rid.of.standardized testing because it failed to account socioeconomic factors for.low results (see Baltimore schools and 7% proficiency scores) which these days is a way of saying structural racism. So once you get of testing there will belittle outside insight by policymakers into a system that is being increasingly dominated by Woke interests and for many that’s a feature not a bug.

    Going back to Kessler’s article he thinks he’s stumbled on some new insight of reforming schools with technology. We have been trying to reform K12 since the 1980s and use educational technology for almost that long; that doesn’t include all the national focus on K12 since Sputnik.

    We mock (deservedly so) the millennials for their belief that socialism is a viable system, despite all the historical evidence but then we go ahead I believe in the face of all past evidence that we can reform the existing K12 system. We need to realize that the K12 district model is incapable of reforming itself and is too susceptible to ideological capture. Perhaps strong and decisive action at the state level will suffice for reform but I’m coming to the conclusion that we need to build other institutions by funding through a voucher program students and not systems

  25. Bill, I am so old I can remember when California had the best highways. Jerry Brown took care of that and destroyed much of the remaining legacy of his father,.
    I remember that too Mike. You should see the state of the highways now – big potholes up and down the state.

    A lot of California’s problems started with Jerry Brown, with his allowing in the public labor unions. And a lot are self inflicted, with a voting populace voting on initiatives with emotion rather than logic. I think our schools have declined with the rise in power of the CA Teacher’s Association. With over 300,000 public school teachers I’ll bet less than a handful have been fired for incompetence. I wouldn’t be surprised if none have been fired.

    Just looked it up – 19 fired for incompetence.

    Just a small example – the price of eggs has soared in part because voters enacted a proposition that chickens have to have so much room in their coops.

    Then we have bureaucracies that keep enacting more restrictive laws. It can get below freezing at my home in No CA but I can’t get windshield washer fluid freeze protected to -20F. I can get it if I want to drive 90 miles to Lake Tahoe.

    I remember seeing a clip of Reagan being interviewed by Johnny Carson and he said hack in the late 70s that bureaucracies are getting more power than the legislatures because of all of the laws they enact.

    And it certainly hasn’t gotten any better.

  26. Bill Brandt,
    I sure can’t fix California but if you want windshield washer fluid that won’t freeze, get a quart bottle of isopropyl alcohol , 91% if possible and mix it in. One thing at a time.

  27. I haven’t read the paper yet, but here’s a study attempting to *quantity* the impact of good management on productivity.

    Ethan Mollick summarizes: “The most overlooked technology for raising productivity might be “good management. It is a key source of US business success. 11,000 interviews in 34 countries shows that over 30% of the productivity advantage of US firms comes from better management.”

    Certainly agree that management is a major factor in productivity (or lack of same), but hard to see how it can be isolated and quantified meaningful given all the other compounding factors. Hope to find time to read the paper sometime soon, would be interested in thoughts of others who read it.

  28. Gee, only 81 pages, we’ll see. Until then, some rules of thumb.

    If Simon Legree was alive, he’d be a management consultant.

    He who manages best, manages least.

    A good manager makes sure his people have the tools they need, close to hand when they need them. A bad manager locks tools away to protect them.

  29. If Simon Legree were alive, (I has too got good grammar) his LinkedIn would claim he was a recognized expert on motivational instruments and the inventor of the split backed office chair, combining proper ergonomic support with convenient application of motivational technology in an office setting.

  30. David,

    Let’s just look at the university. The corruption and incompetence are staggering. What’s scary is that the dishonesty is exceeded by the size and scale of the hatred that schools marinate in. Everything in society is downstream of this hate-filled disaster zone.

    The leftist narrative dominates and every aspect of that narrative is a lie. Each of those lies is used as weapon against those the left has chosen to demonize. All the institutions (including the military) are focused on pushing the lie while ignoring the mission.

    The issue isn’t increasing productivity. It’s returning to the mission. We’re experiencing an attack on reality, an attack on achievement. As the left makes it harder and harder to move forward, the fact that anyone keeps from falling behind is remarkable.

    Forget productivity. We need to refocus on the mission.

  31. re: the Instapundit link to your post in 2011 on “elites”

    I would add that the hatred directed at the tea party/flyover country types by the “elites” could have been part of the list. ‘Othering’ is evil. And growing. Then and now.

  32. he said hack in the late 70s that bureaucracies are getting more power than the legislatures because of all of the laws they enact.

    Some disagreement here. Congress is the worst at this. Congress critters no longer draft legislation. Bills are written by staff and lobbyists. They are enormous patches of bulls**t and require many regulations to enact details. This is where the Deep State takes over. I blame McCain and Finegold for this. Congressmen spend all their time raising money while staffs do the job. This sort of thing gives Nancy Pelosi and McConnell enormous power as they control fundraising from big donors.

  33. the problem is as much what is being produced, one illuminating moment was when we discovered, what a hollow foundation, lehman bros, teeterred on, although the method of it’s demise, and the timing there in, the central pillar was a massive public housing project named tishman speyer*, found that ou from the valukas inquest, buttressed by subprime real estate,

    the story of mf global and now ftx shows they haven’t learned a thing,

  34. Well David, I, at least looked at all 81 pages and skimmed through the main paper, looked at the figures. I found their command of jargon impressive, they had equations with Greek subscripts and everything. The main paper also list 71 references with many of the underling variables explicitly tied to them. Of those 71, going back to 1883, just how many have ever been replicated? Of those that represent something real, did they interpret and use them correctly? All questions that not even the referee can probably answer, let alone a poor layman.

    Let’s look at the earth shattering conclusion. Near as I make out, firms with better management do better than those with lousy management. If you look at the scoring matrix, you’ll see all the presently fashionable fads, sacred cows and shibboleths.

    The entire score is based on what plant managers claim to be doing. Since most have read the same books, touting the same strategies, the only real surprise is that where the U.S. wins with a score of 3.3 out of 5, Mozambique scores 2. To me, not a persuasive difference. Nowhere is any attempt made to objectively measure anything, it’s all self reported to hired graduate students.

    This might work as a sales pitch for the Management Book of the Month Club, as the discovery of a new Technology of Management, not in the real world.

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