1 Indian worker = 1.25 American workers

So reveals Arnold Kling from what he heard at a conference this week. There’s a good discussion out on his blog EconLog.

Another factor is how much of this is simply picking the low hanging fruit? I’m sure the best Indian doctor is better than the average American doctor. The best Indian mathematician is probably better than the average American one. The best Indian soccar player is probably better than the average American.

It doesn’t follow from that that the average for all Indian doctors, mathematicians, soccar (sic) players is as impressive. If I was opening a hospital in India, I may hire ‘the best’ Indian doctors and find that I could run it with 80% of the staff than if I had used average American doctors. It doesn’t follow, though, that I could run every hospital in India with 80% of the staff! [Boonton/Econlog]

Now I’m not sure if this best-to-average comparison holds across the board for it ignores traditional specialisation. Consider baseball, the average American baseball player probably is better than the best Indian one; vice versa for cricket.

It is best to be cautious about such signpost arithmetic. It reminds me of the famous “internet traffic doubles every 100 days” line that was so responsible for the dot-com bubble; a hyperbole quoted so widely that it began to be taken literally and then accepted as established fact.