Monday, July 19, 2010

Diminishing Marginal Utility of Business School

This ad for UT's MBA program is probably truer than it was intended to be:


Zero Marginal Product Workers

There's an interesting debate going on over at Tyler Cowan's Marginal Revolution blog about Zero marginal product workers. Here's my theory, which I posted in the comments there:

Let's say Jack and John are both employed doing the same work while employment is high (and fear of unemployment is therefore low--if either loses his job he can likely find another one). Then the economy craters and Jack loses his job. John's fear of unemployment is now higher than it was, since he sees not only his colleague Jack get laid off but also dire unemployment figures in the news. Now fearful, John works harder to keep his job than he did when the economy was good, and by so doing makes up for the productivity lost by Jack's layoff.

To management, who measures only total productivity and not per-worker productivity, it looks like Jack was a zero marginal productivity worker. As the economy rebounds they're under no pressure to rehire Jack, so unemployment stays high.

I'd be interested in any reactions to this theory, and in finding out how one would formally describe it in economic terms.