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Measuring Productivity Dispersion: Lessons from Counting One Hundred Million Ballots

Ethan Ilzetzki & Saverio Simonelli

We measure output per worker in nearly 8,000 municipalities using ballot counting times in the Italian general election of 2013 and two referenda in 2016. We document large productivity dispersion across provinces in this very uniform and simple task that involves no modern technology and limited physical capital. Vote counting productivity has similar variance as--and is highly correlated with--firm-level productivity. The correlation is larger with productivity in firms in labor-intensive and low-skill industries, consistent with a measure of
(low-skilled-) labor-augmenting productivity.
Using a development accounting framework, this measure accounts for up to half of the firm-level productivity dispersion across Italian provinces and more than half the north-south productivity gap in Italy. We find evidence that a combination of lack of trust and contentious aspects of the job relates to low labor efficiency in this setting.





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Vote counting rate in election (left) and labor productivity in firms 


Sample ballot in 2013

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