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The Least Productive People in the World

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Income and Productivity Charts

(Cross-posted to GroundSwell Magazine)
Productivity, as determined by labor output, has been measured for decades, or longer. But, while it's important to look at who, or what, is the most productive person or enterprise, shouldn't we also look at the least productive people, that is, the least effective laborers? Perhaps by understanding who the least productive people are, we can learn how to make them more productive. This would help them, and help society.

So, who are the least productive people?

Well, on the first take it might be tempting to look at those who don't labor at all, or those whose labor doesn't produce anything that satisfies human desires the ultimate goal of production. Let's exclude children and the very old or infirm from this tally. While it is true they are not productive, in the case of children, we expect great things from them in the future, and in the case of the every old, they may have produced a lot in the past. Finally, in the case of the infirm, there is only so much one can do when nature limits your abilities.

This would seem, at first, to leave the poor, or even the homeless. After all, the modern-day cold and calculating economists tell us, if those people were productive, than society would reward them for their labor.

So, is that it? Do we get to the zero line and say, "That's the bottom. That's the least productive people are capable of being"?

No. There is another class of human beings we've neglected, a group that exists below the zero line, sometimes reaching up to drag us down below with them or, at least, to take our money down with them. This, of course, is the criminal class, not just the robbers, burglars and muggers who directly take our money, but the ones whose labors injure us or our loved ones and make us incapable of producing ourselves, thereby adding a second minus to their own.

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So, maybe that's it then. We just need to find the most heinous criminal; the one who's taken the most lives, or swindled the greatest amount of money out of productive people, and we have our candidate for the Most Unproductive Person, the winner of the Golden Unpro.

Let's see if we can think of a few individuals to nominate then.

How about Bernie Madoff? According to Wikipedia, the amount missing from client accounts, including fabricated gains, was almost $65 billion. However, the court appointed trustee estimated actual l(http://www.progress.org/2010/barofsky.htm): losses to investors of $18 billion.

But, wait a minute. Henry George tells us that investor money is really "speculative money" and doesn't actually produce very much, if anything. That is, I may buy a stock from you, and you might make a profit while I eventually sell it at a loss, but nothing of value has been created between us. Your pile of money has simply grown while mine has shrunk. True, companies that are invested in are able to borrow money, using their investor's money as collateral as highly volatile and unreliable as that is, as we recently discovered during the Great Crash of 2008. But nothing is actually produced from investors' money. There is not much labor involved either which, of course, is what makes investing in the markets so attractive, at least until the bubble bursts. Yes, of course, the investor-speculators will all say they polish their green eyeshades daily and scrutinize their investments mercilessly. But, when 95% of the money managers can't beat the dumb S&P index over 10 years, perhaps this is labor we can redirect to more productive uses. Or, as Michael Hudson stated in a recent article:

The wealthiest 10% lend out their surplus to become debts owed by the bottom 90%. By charging rent and interest and by shifting taxes off themselves onto workers, the wealthiest enjoy a rising share of gains.

This is not what Adam Smith described in The Wealth of Nations. This extraction is a form of overhead, not a technologically or economically necessary cost. It is a zero-sum game -- one party's gain (that of Wall Street usually) is another's loss.

Well, there is no doubt the legal system found the labor of Madoff to be counter-productive, or at least, wealth-destroying, since it sentenced him to 150 years in prison or more than 10 times the average sentence length for First Degree Murder in states without the death penalty. At least the courts have their priorities straight! Paper wealth, even if unlabored for, is legally worth far more than a human life.

But, we can do better in searching for the least productive people. Now that we know what pool to look into, let's go after some big fish. For example, according to Answers.com:

"When the U.S. economy fell into recession in 1990, Trump's highly leveraged business empire threatened to collapse. Entities of the Trump Organization, or Donald Trump personally, had incurred more than $5 billion in debt--$8.8 billion, according to one source--of which almost $1 billion had been drawn solely on Trump's personal guarantee. Big New York banks had financed $3.75 billion worth of debt. They reduced their risk and collected fees by syndicating the loans to some 70 other banks...Most of this money was recovered after subsequent restructurings, but some $600 million to $800 million may have been lost. Forbes magazine had estimated Trump's worth at $1.7 billion in 1989, making him the nation's 19th richest man. But two years later it assessed his worth at minus $900 million, making him a heavy contender in the world's poorest man category" [emphasis added].

The "Donald,' as he is affectionately called, is an interesting case, wildly productive at times, and a negative producer at others (at least if one takes into balance the sucking out of capital to "resuscitate" his business enterprises, at the expense of other potential borrowers), much like the Real Estate market he speculates in. No surprise there, since we Georgists know that the true cause of economic busts is when Rent has been pushed beyond what labor and capital can pay, leading to a collapse and a stoppage of production"eventually. Of course, unlike the average foreclosed-upon homeowner, the Donald has rich creditors all over the world to fall back upon. Or, perhaps it is like that old saying: when you owe a bank a hundred thousand dollars, it is your creditor, when you owe them a billion, it is your partner. I won't go further than that because Trump also engages in another zero-sum game suing people he disagrees with. Make no mistake, however, I do want him to continue the productive business of erecting buildings! Moving on"

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Scott Baker is a Managing Editor & The Economics Editor at Opednews, and a blogger for Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Global Economic Intersection.

His anthology of updated Opednews articles was published by Tayen Lane Publishing (March, 2015) and may be found here:

Scott is President of Common Ground-NYC (http://commongroundnyc.org/), a Geoist/Georgist activist group. He has written (more...)

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Just like Bernie, here's another example that has ... by Scott Johnson on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 9:37:13 AM
When I was just 19, I worked for a similar ponzi c... by Scott Baker on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 11:28:21 AM
great points and it makes me want to revisit Georg... by BaronVonRothschild on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 9:54:15 AM
...just the subjects of other articles, if not by ... by Scott Baker on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 3:37:09 AM
is that overpopulation, not global climate change,... by Nick van Nes on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 10:10:26 AM
and I want to talk about people and productivity. ... by Margaret Bassett on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 10:15:46 AM
I hope you had the chance to read the rest of my a... by Scott Baker on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 3:47:19 AM
And through the layers of what you presented I bel... by arlen custer on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 10:36:54 AM
Apparently you failed modern economics. Don't you ... by WML on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 10:46:18 AM
the wife and political party swapping Reagan champ... by Stanimal on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 5:52:08 PM
Unfortunately, those of us who now make our living... by Scott Baker on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 3:58:46 AM
You are part of the problem in keeping this insani... by arlen custer on Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010 at 7:41:22 AM
WML,You have rightly said: "If humanity is to cont... by Vijayaraghavan Padmanabhan on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 5:36:54 AM
had success with and it does take a certain type o... by Larry Tierney on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 10:49:27 AM
Well written and hearty comments all. Some intere... by John Little on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 10:50:42 AM
"Who knows, we may have to include depopulation as... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 11:32:56 AM
you might be interested to know that the first eco... by Scott Baker on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 4:06:03 AM
I almost didn't bother going to page 2. Rework it ... by John Toradze on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 11:28:57 AM
It is not the lack of productivity of the fat cats... by David Chester on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 1:04:31 PM
I would never discount anything George said (I am ... by Scott Baker on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 4:19:10 AM
The economic problems of today, and every econoic ... by Philip Dennany on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 4:10:54 PM
They sit on the top and do nothing. They own every... by Starla Immak on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 6:24:22 PM
but they also lead by example and other people sto... by Mark Sashine on Saturday, Feb 20, 2010 at 7:15:23 PM
When I visited Jamaica for a couple months, I saw ... by martinweiss on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 2:28:29 AM
It seems we have one group of people (like myself)... by Jack Flanders on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 5:46:45 AM
Henry George talked abou this kind of Rent-Seeking... by Scott Baker on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 10:59:49 AM
I had been thinking more about taxing assets, rath... by Jack Flanders on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 12:47:13 PM
Dear Scott,Whatever your background may have contr... by Mark Overt Skilbred on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 1:08:23 PM
But what about the REAL negative takers, or haven'... by Keith Pope on Sunday, Feb 21, 2010 at 1:26:20 PM
For years the George view of economics has been ar... by Margaret Bassett on Monday, Feb 22, 2010 at 1:51:38 AM
Oil is a great example of what's wrong with tying ... by Scott Baker on Monday, Feb 22, 2010 at 3:24:32 AM
But I know there is some. Around the time of Carte... by Margaret Bassett on Monday, Feb 22, 2010 at 12:57:18 PM
So, yes, wind is a resource too and should be taxe... by Scott Baker on Monday, Feb 22, 2010 at 1:08:28 PM
Do you remember the Grace Commission's Report in 1... by Robert James on Monday, Aug 26, 2013 at 11:16:41 AM