Does the UK really have a productivity problem?

Money money money. Image: Getty.

Productivity – or the UK’s lack of it – is the cause of the country’s economic woes. We have been told this by countless politicians and commentators. And the focus on Britain’s “productivity puzzle” is back in the headlines thanks to the latest budget. The UK’s latest productivity and growth forecasts have been slashed, such that the leading IFS think tank now predicts two decades of no earnings growth.

A similar story tends to be recycled every time growth forecasts change or data comparing the G7 countries or regions within the UK is released. Phrases like: “It takes a German worker four days to produce what a British one does in five.”

But how is productivity the cause of the UK’s problems and what does this statement actually mean? Unfortunately very little, because the term is used inconsistently. There are different measures of productivity and the nature of the UK’s problem depends on which one we are looking at and how it is being used.

Different definitions

At its base, productivity is a measure of output over input. The most commonly used measure of output is value-added. Literally the value added to goods and services produced in the UK, calculated as the monetary difference between what is sold and the intermediate goods used in its production.

The most commonly reported input is the number of workers or worker-hours. When combined this gives us a measure of labour productivity, calculated for each industry and aggregated for a region or the whole economy.

So far, so good. However, there are some more crucial distinctions, depending upon how labour productivity is used.

If we compare the performance of the UK with other countries or that of London with other parts of the UK, this requires making the comparison at the same point in time. In this case national statistical offices use current price measures of value-added. They use prices in each country at the point of comparison, converted into a common currency (usually US dollars) and adjusted for what these can buy in each place. This is called purchasing power parity or PPP.

Hence, what we are saying when we say that London is more productive than Carlisle in the north of England or that the UK is less productive than Germany, is that the value-added at current prices produced per hour worked in those places (what economists would call nominal productivity) is different. This is likely to depend largely upon the activities that are being performed in each place.

If some highly lucrative activities are concentrated in one part of the country – say financial and professional services in London – or within a country – think of complex manufacturing across Germany – then this will strongly influence the current price productivity data. The fact that the UK lags behind other countries on this measure reflects what goods and services it produces and the prices it can command for them versus what it has to pay for intermediate inputs.

So some of what the UK produces may be attributable to the skills of workers – but clearly the UK has wider historical issues regarding the types of industry it has and the geographical diversity of its economy. It is misleading to label this a productivity problem.


Skills and efficiency

A second way that labour productivity is used is to chart its change or growth over time. This calculation involves fixing prices at some point in time and calculating the change in the quantity of output produced to give a real measure of value-added. Hence if real labour productivity is increasing at 3 per cent per year, a country is producing 3 per cent more actual goods and services per hour worked than it was before, independent of price changes.

It is this calculation that is reflected in the growth of the economy and increases living standards. It is often interpreted as a measure of the increasing efficiency of workers but we must bear in mind that how work is organised, what equipment workers have, how skilled and well-trained they are and how close to capacity the economy is operating will all affect this measure. Also, certain industries have greater propensity for automation, which is central to increasing productivity.

Unfortunately, since the financial crisis productivity growth across the G7 has been much lower than it was prior to it – which has raised questions regarding how realistic prior measurement was, particularly in financial services, and whether the world has entered an era of slower technological progress. The UK’s productivity fall was steeper and its rebound weaker than in comparison countries.

The ConversationThis might be due to a number of reasons: low capital investment, poor skills, the high employment rate and low interest rates keeping inefficient companies afloat. No single explanation is currently winning the day. I would, however, urge readers to think about which measure of productivity is being used and what it means the next time we are told that the UK’s economic woes are due to poor productivity.

Paul Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy, Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Canada’s gay neighbourhoods are struggling. Can queer pop-ups plug the gap?

Vancouver. Image: Getty.

Queer life was highly visible in Western Canada last year. In May, Vancouver declared 2018 the “Year of the Queer,” celebrating decades of service that the city’s cultural organisations have provided for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ/2S) people across the region.

Yet 2018 also saw the loss of multiple queer venues and gay bars. While economic forces, such as rapacious gentrification are part of the story and struggle, our research shows that something creative and generative is happening in the city as well.

In the face of changing urban landscapes, economic hardships, and more straights moving into historically gay neighbourhoods, queer pop-ups — ephemeral gathering spaces whose impact lingers among revellers long after the night is over — now play a large role in the fight for LGBTQ/2S equality.

Scattered gay places became neighbourhoods

Queer life germinated in “scattered gay places” across cities in North America from the late 1800s to the Second World War. Inside cabarets, bars, theatres or outside in public parks, washrooms and city streets, queers found spaces which could hold and celebrate transgressive sexual connections while also providing respite from daily experiences of discrimination and social exclusion.

After the Second World War, scattered gay places congealed into permanent gay bars and residential “gaybourhoods” in a period anthropologist Kath Weston calls “the great gay migration.” Queer people flocked to urban centres and sexual subcultures flourished in cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto.

The formation of queer community spaces has always been controversial. Cultural and legal backlashes marred early developments. A host of laws and regulations tried to suppress and contain homosexuality in North America by limiting its presence in the public sphere.

These measures resulted in frequent hostilities, police raids and violence. Queers congregated together not just to find love or community, but to protect themselves, to protect one another and to find refuge. Pride parades, now celebrated worldwide, commemorate these early turf wars.

Pop-ups revitalise queer spaces

Researchers have written a great deal on the cultural and political importance of gay districts in urban centres, and they have grappled with concerns that these areas, along with the establishments they house, are fading.

But innovative urban forms challenge arguments about the death and demise of queer spaces in the city. Our research suggests that queer pop-ups, or temporary cultural gathering spaces, cater to diverse and often marginalised queers.

Some gaybourhoods are dwindling in their residential concentration and gay bars are dropping like flies. But new queer place-making efforts are emerging.

Two of the authors at the queer pop-up in 2018 at East Side Studios in Vancouver. Ryan is on the far left, back row, Adriana is on the far right of the back row. Image: author provided.

Unlike gaybourhoods and gay bars, pop-ups are intentional in how they address persistent, intersectional forms of inequality. Queer pop-ups offer patrons a space to explore non-binary forms of gender and sexual identities, and especially a place to experience collective effervescence among queer people of colour, and femme lesbians.

Some pop-ups create environments that are explicitly trans-inclusive, consent-focused, and sex-positive. Pop-ups are not panaceas for queer life. Pop-ups can also be places where issues around socioeconomic status, gender identity and expression, and racial inequality are called out.

Yet these spaces directly and indirectly encourage dialogue on inequalities within the queer community, conversations that help produce safer spaces for marginalised queers to find each other and forge enduring queer consciousnesses.

Turf wars

Queer pop-ups show similar trajectories of infighting and compromise that the LGBT social movement encountered from the late 1970s through the early 2000s when trying to forge a collective consciousness, gain social visibility and win legal rights.

These turf wars, expressed as contests over space and inclusion, are generally sparked over three perennial concerns: privilege, race and gender. One interviewee, a 20-year-old self-identified queer, trans person of colour (QTPoC), who spoke about Vancouver’s gay district told us:

“I tend to avoid the gay bars on Davie [because] a lot of the gay bars there have now been taken over by cis-gender, heterosexual people. I’ve [also] heard from a lot of QTPoC friends that they are often uncomfortable going to gay bars on Davie, because it’s usually very dominated by cis-gender, white gay men.”

A 28-year-old white, cisgender, queer male found pop-ups more politically and culturally radical than gay bars. He put it this way:

“It’s very rare that we’ll ever have a conversation about politics [in gay bars]. It’s just about partying and things that we kind of see as very stereotypical portrayals of gay culture: like going out, dancing, drinking, fucking.”

Historically, gaybourhoods have served an important role in the fight for LGBT rights, but they have also developed to cater to a specific cis-gender, white, middle-class, male sensibility. One 30-year-old, white, trans DJ put it bluntly, “the mainstream scene is just not welcoming to trans people, in my experience,” adding that verbal transphobic harassment is common in the streets of Vancouver’s gaybourhood.

At Vancouver Pride this year we were reminded of this schism at a local pop-up event. “Gay men won’t come here, it’s too trashy,” shouted a white Australian lesbian playfully to friends over loud music. We were at Eastside Studios, a large warehouse turned into the newest collaborative queer venue in Vancouver.


The comment was striking because it highlights the visible bifurcation occurring in queer life and queer consumption in Vancouver. Many gay men tend to patronise businesses and events in the West End, Vancouver’s official gaybourhood; whereas, other members of the LGBTQ community are scattered across the city at events and venues that are far less permanent. Eastside Studios attempts to break through the homonormative bent some gay bars perpetuate. It is a space that generously houses some of the struggling pop up events who lost space to gentrification in Vancouver’s out of control rental market.

Historically, pop-ups arose as the first signs of urban sexual transgression. They continue to emerge as spatial innovations which nurture transgressive queer diversities that do not have space or representation in the gaybourhood. Weekly social media blasts via Facebook or Instagram and word-of-mouth dissemination play an important role in linking queers around the city to these events. Pop-ups take different tones and establish different vibes among patrons. Collectively, pop-ups highlight the many important projects local queers are undertaking to increase the plurality of what queer life looks like and how it is expressed.

Struggles for equality

Marriage is the leading story in many headlines these days, but queer struggles for equality were never only about relationship recognition or acceptance into the mainstream.

Queer struggles are also fights to resist oppressive normativity, to end racial inequality and white supremacy, to end sexualised violence, to reconcile generational traumas associated with colonialism.

Continuing these fights is perhaps what makes queer pop-ups unique. Organisers of these events are intentional and responsive to such concerns. They seek to create new worlds that soften the impact of inequalities, both in gaybourhoods and in other parts of Canadian cities as well.

Pop-ups nourish queer lives; they emerge as temporary meeting grounds where diverse, oftentimes marginalised, queers flock for community and collective, momentary release. Here an image from a Man Up pop-up event in Vancouver. Image: Shot by Steph/Facebook/The Conversation.

Many of these spaces are an opportunity for patrons to travel in a re-imagined world, even if only for the night. While not all pop-ups that appear survive, the ones that do matter, fundamentally, because they create spaces that resist heteronormative culture and homonormativity, address intersecting inequalities, assert and anchor queer cultural and political identities, and promote well-being for a wider portion of the community in ways that gaybourhoods used to and have always had the potential to.

Pop-ups nourish queer lives in ways that gaybourhoods and gay bars historically had. They emerge as temporary meeting grounds where diverse, oftentimes marginalised, queers flock for community and collective, momentary release. They allow patrons to dance and comfortably explore the implications of their gender and sexual identities around like-minded individuals. At times they are more than friendly social gatherings, becoming sites where the moral arch of the community is shaped through demonstrations on urgent issues impacting queer lives and the surrounding community.

Queer pop-ups are vibrant locations that work to push forward the unfinished projects of social justice first envisioned during gay liberation.

The Conversation

Ryan Stillwagon, Ph.D. Student, Sociology, University of British Columbia; Adriana Brodyn, Ph.D. Candidate, University of British Columbia; Amin Ghaziani, Associate Professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair in Sexuality and Urban Studies, University of British Columbia, and D. Kyle Sutherland, PhD Student, Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.