Economist Thierry Malleret takes a look at an odd fact: Despite all the hype about technology and innovation, productivity is stalled, or falling, around the world—with India being one key exception. Critical, disturbing reasons—weak investment and cash hoarding by mega–companies in countries like the U.S. Shifting to the wellness front, Malleret discusses how many businesses are now scrambling to increase productivity by rolling out employee wellness programs. And yoga is on the rise in those programs because a lot of anecdotal evidence indicates that "it works."


Despite all the hype about technology and innovation, productivity is slowing down—or even falling—around the world (with the exception of India and Sub-Saharan Africa). This is one of today’s great economic paradoxes that predates the onset of the “Great Recession” and for which there is no satisfactory explanation; that said, weak investment does seem to be an important factor.

Let’s take the example of the U.S. Productivity fell by 2 percent in Q1 of this year (year-over-year), having risen by an anemic 0.4 percent per year since 2010, compared with a yearly 2.9 percent between 1995 and 2005. This is occurring against the backdrop of the 50 largest U.S. companies hoarding more than $1 trillion in cash, despite real interest rates having hovered around zero for almost five years.

Can this be attributed to a lack of opportunities? Or fears about the future? Whatever the reason, this has set into motion a vicious circle that is holding back GDP growth and progressively turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Insights through THE wellness lens

At the micro level, many businesses are now trying to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity by implementing wellness program for their employees. Yoga often plays a prominent role in this: It’s now a booming business around the world. According to the U.S. Sports and Fitness Industry Association, the number of people over 16 practicing yoga in the U.S. grows at an average annual rate of more than 5 percent—far outstripping other “wellness” activities such as Pilates (less than 1 percent annual growth), or running and jogging (annual growth just below 5 percent).  As yet there is no comprehensive research on how yoga practice at the office (or outside of it) correlates with higher productivity, but a lot of anecdotal evidence indicates that “it works.”

At the macro level, the notion that a country such as India is more productive thanks to yoga is entirely preposterous, but it is interesting to note that yoga is very much part of India’s cultural DNA. It is also politically “charged,” associated with Hindus much more than with Muslims or Christians. The new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a yoga practitioner who created a ministerial portfolio for “Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha and homeopathy”—wellbeing practices of Hindu origin. At his request, the UN has declared June 21 as the first International Day of Yoga. On that day, he will lead a mass-synchronized yoga performance of 45,000 people at the Rajpath in New Delhi.


Thierry Malleret is the co-founder and primary author of the Monthly Barometer, a predictive analysis provided exclusively to private investors and today's most influential opinion and decision-makers. Previously he was a senior partner at IJ (Informed Judgement) Partners, an investment boutique for ultra-high-net-worth individuals based in Geneva. Thierry also founded and directed the Global Risk Network at the World Economic Forum (WEF), bringing together top policymakers, CEOs and academics to consider how global issues will affect business and society in the short and long term. For a number of years, Thierry conceived and implemented the WEF program at Davos. He holds MAs (in economics and history) and a PhD in Economics. He writes a Wellness Edition of his Monthly Barometer, exclusively for the Global Wellness Institute. For a copy of the full report, join the GWI as a Member or Ambassador.

AuthorThierry Malleret, Economist and Founder, Monthly Barometer