American workers remain among the most productive in the world. They still on average outstrip the Japanese, for example, despite Japan's well-deserved reputation for hard work and labor-saving technology. But US productivity growth has faltered. Under present trends it would not be long before Japan's productivity overtook America's.
Keeping US productivity high is a complex challenge involving individual employee and management attitudes as much as corporate and government policy. A key element is public awareness of problems and possible solutions. It can be enhanced by September's big White House Conference on Productivity - and momentum toward it that has now begun.
Next month comes a meeting on capital investment (Durham, N.C., June 14-16), the first of four preparatory conferences. Then human resources (St. Louis, June 21-23); government roles (San Diego, July 19-21); private sector initiatives (Pittsburgh, Aug. 2-4).
These topics offer some sense of the conference's range of concerns under the guidance of an advisory committee representing business, labor, education, and other segments of society. Further indications lie in the 11 policy areas to be considered:
* Reorganizing government.
* Promoting benefits from productivity improvement techniques.
* Improving general training and skills of American labor.
* Informing US business of foreign technology developments
* Sharing government research with industry.
* Establishing awards for improvements in productivity.
* Revising tax laws.
* Reviewing antitrust laws.
* Reviewing patent laws.
* Improving reliability of productivity measures
* Revising federal civil service laws.
A full assignment. One, we might say, that will require high productivity from the participants, not to mention chairman William Simon. And one that, if it is to go beyond publicity, will demand administration and congressional follow-up on the mandated recommendations for action. These are to be delivered to the president within 120 days after the Washington conference, Sept. 22-23.
Will there be hot news for Tokyo then or not?