Plastic Bags

by spencer

Yesterday I was in line at the grocery store behind a woman buying a weeks supply for her family.
Nothing unusual about that, but she had brought her own bags so she would not be using plastic and/or paper sacks that would be thrown away after one use. She had about a half dozen bags.

What happened was the cash register operator spent half her time placing the many items in the different bags according to a logical pattern that spread the weight around, put bottle in different bags, fresh fruit and vegetables together and boxed items on the bottom. All the things I learned to do years ago when I worked as a bagger as a teenager.

All this turned out to be a very time consuming exercise that on balance meant that the productivity of the grocery store clerk plunged.

In light of this mornings report of very good productivity growth, will poor grocery store clerk productivity be an unintended consequence of conservation measures? Is this one example of how conservation will generate unintended trade-offs? The productivity slowdown from 1975 to 1995 has never been adequately understood and I’ve always believed that shifting investment from minimizing labor to minimizing oil use was a major factor behind the slowdown. Was my experience yesterday just a leading indicator of what to expect and is the recent strength in productivity the tail end of a trend that high priced energy will bring to an end?