How Productivity Growth Shifts the AS Curve
In the long run, the most important factor shifting the AS curve is productivity growth. Productivity means how much output can be produced with a given quantity of labor. One measure of this is output per worker or GDP per capita. Over time, productivity grows so that the same quantity of labor can produce more output. Historically, the real growth in GDP per capita in an advanced economy like the United States has averaged about 2% to 3% per year, but productivity growth has been faster during certain extended periods like the 1960s and the late 1990s through the early 2000s, or slower during periods like the 1970s. A higher level of productivity shifts the AS curve to the right, because with improved productivity, firms can produce a greater quantity of output at every price level. Figure (a) shows an outward shift in productivity over two time periods. The AS curve shifts out from SRAS0 to SRAS1 to SRAS2, and the equilibrium shifts from E0 to E1 to E2. Note that with increased productivity, workers can produce more GDP. Thus, full employment corresponds to a higher level of potential GDP, which we show as a rightward shift in LRAS from LRAS0 to LRAS1 to LRAS2.
A shift in the SRAS curve to the right will result in a greater real GDP and downward pressure on the price level, if aggregate demand remains unchanged. However, if this shift in SRAS results from gains in productivity growth, which we typically measure in terms of a few percentage points per year, the effect will be relatively small over a few months or even a couple of years. Recall how in Choice in a World of Scarcity, we said that a nation's production possibilities frontier is fixed in the short run, but shifts out in the long run? This is the same phenomenon using a different model.