The US economy has strengthened considerably in recent years, presenting an opportunity to address the 40-year stagnation in incomes for the middle class. This column provides historical and international context for the key factors affecting middle-class incomes: productivity growth, labour force participation, and income inequality. It also outlines President Obama’s approach to economic policies – what he terms “middle-class economics” – which is designed to improve all three.
Jason Furman, Friday, February 20, 2015
Kirill Shakhnov, Saturday, January 17, 2015
The rapid growth of the US financial sector has driven policy debate on whether it is socially desirable. This column examines the trade-off between finance and entrepreneurship, and links the growth of finance to rising wealth inequality. Although financial intermediation helps allocate capital efficiently, people choosing a career in finance do not internalise the negative effect on the pool of talented entrepreneurs. This mechanism can explain the simultaneous growth of wealth inequality and finance in the US, and why more unequal countries have larger financial sectors.
Samuel Marden, Sunday, December 28, 2014
It is often argued that for poor countries, increases in agricultural productivity result in higher non-agricultural output, but the theory is ambiguous and the empirical evidence is limited. This column presents evidence from a natural experiment provided by China’s early 1980s agricultural reforms. Higher agricultural output induced by the reforms led to quantitatively important growth in non-agricultural output. This growth appears to be primarily due to rural savings increasing the supply of capital to the non-agricultural sector.
Alex Bryson, John Forth, Lucy Stokes, Monday, November 17, 2014
It is generally agreed that firms can improve their employees’ wellbeing through improvements in job quality – but is it in their economic interests to do so? This column reports research showing that satisfied employees and higher productivity go together. Analysis of the British Workplace Employment Relations Survey finds that employee job satisfaction is positively associated with workplace financial performance, labour productivity, and the quality of output and service.
Florian Mayneris, Sandra Poncet, Monday, October 13, 2014
Minimum wage laws are often shown to have little impact on employment as the labour price rise can be offset by lower turnover, lower markups, and heightened efficiency, or ‘cleansing’ effects. This column shows that in a fast-growing economy like China, there is a ‘cleansing’ effect of labour market standards. Minimum wage growth allows more productive firms to replace the least productive ones and forces incumbent firms to become more competitive. Both mechanisms boost the aggregate efficiency of the economy.
David Blanchflower, Stephen Machin, Monday, September 29, 2014
Real wages continue to fall in the UK and elsewhere, yet despite this striking feature of the labour market, some commentators anticipate resurgent pay growth in the near future. This column argues that the absence of any improvement in the UK’s productivity performance – together with evidence that nominal wage growth is flatlining and real wage growth is falling – make it highly unlikely that wage growth is about to explode upwards.
Alex Edmans, Friday, July 25, 2014
Happy workers might well be more productive than unhappy ones, but high worker satisfaction could also be a sign that workers are overpaid or underworked. This column examines the link between worker satisfaction and future stock returns in 14 countries. In most but not all countries, employee satisfaction is associated with higher future stock returns. Abnormal returns to companies with high worker satisfaction are significantly increasing in the flexibility of their countries’ labour markets.
Hongyong Zhang, Monday, July 21, 2014
The Chinese government has been actively promoting innovation via policies such as R&D subsidies, tax relief, and location policies. Since 1995, central and local governments have established more than 100 clusters in over 60 cities. This column presents new evidence on the effect of the concentration of firms on product innovation (new products) in the manufacturing industries.
Masayuki Morikawa, Sunday, July 20, 2014
Innovation is a key driver of productivity growth, but innovation in the service sector has received relatively little attention. This column shows that the total factor productivity gap between Japanese firms with and without innovations is larger in services than in manufacturing. Whereas the percentage of firms holding patents is much higher in manufacturing than in services, trade secrets are just as important in both sectors. These results suggest that the protection of trade secrets makes an important contribution to productivity growth.
Maria Bas, Vanessa Strauss-Kahn, Monday, July 14, 2014
The rise of trade in intermediate inputs is well documented, but its role in shaping domestic economies is not yet completely understood. This column presents evidence from French firms on the effects of importing intermediate inputs. Firms importing more varieties of intermediate inputs increased their productivity and exported more varieties. Foreign inputs from the most advanced economies have the strongest effect on firm productivity, but imported inputs from all countries help raise the number of export varieties.
Patricia Ellen, Jaana Remes, Saturday, July 12, 2014
Brazil has grown rapidly and reduced poverty over the past decade, but it has grown more slowly than other emerging economies and its income per capita remains relatively low by global standards. This column points out that sectors of the Brazilian economy that have been opened up to international competition have outperformed those that remain heavily protected. Deeper integration into global markets and value chains could provide competitive pressures that would improve Brazil’s productivity and living standards.
Kerem Cosar, Nezih Guner, James R Tybout, Monday, July 7, 2014
Trade liberalisations are often accompanied by labour market reforms, making it difficult to isolate their effects. This column discusses the effects of trade liberalisation, globalisation, and labour-market reforms on the Colombian labour market. Reduced trade frictions increased cross-firm wage inequality and shifted the firm-size distribution rightward, with offsetting effects on overall wage inequality. Average income increased, but the gains were concentrated among employees of large, productive firms with access to export markets. Greater trade openness also increased job turnover.
Masayuki Morikawa, Thursday, June 19, 2014
Headquarters play important strategic roles in modern companies, but downsizing of headquarters is often advocated as a cost-cutting measure. This column presents evidence from Japanese firm-level data that the size of headquarters is positively associated with firms’ overall productivity. Moreover, the benefits of ICT are greater for companies with relatively large headquarters. Downsizing headquarters to cut costs may thus be harmful for long-term company performance.
Masayuki Morikawa, Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Headquarters play important strategic roles in modern companies, but downsizing of headquarters is often advocated as a cost-cutting measure. This column presents evidence from Japanese firm-level data that headquarters size is positively associated with firms’ overall productivity. Moreover, the benefits of ICT are greater for companies with relatively large headquarters. Downsizing headquarters to cut costs may thus be harmful for long-term company performance.
Filippo di Mauro, Francesco Pappadà, Monday, June 2, 2014
Trade imbalances in the Eurozone require relative price adjustments. This column argues that the traditional ‘elasticity’ approach is lacking when thinking about the adjustment magnitude. Exports adjust when exporting firms sell more (intensive margin) and new firms start exporting (extensive margin). The extensive-margin reaction depends upon the fatness of firm-level productivity distributions. Surplus-country distributions have fatter tails than deficit countries, suggesting that the price adjustment magnitude may be larger than traditional calculations suggest.
Giovanni Peri, Kevin Shih, Chad Sparber, Thursday, May 29, 2014
Immigrants to the US are drawn from both ends of the education spectrum. This column looks at the effect of highly educated immigrants – in particular, those with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics – on total factor productivity growth. The authors find that foreign STEM workers can explain 30% to 60% of US TFP growth between 1990 and 2010.
David Autor, Friday, May 2, 2014
David Autor talks to Viv Davies about his recent research that analyses the differential effects of trade and technology on employment patterns in US local labour markets between 1990 and 2007. While the effect of trade competition is growing over time, the effect of technology has shifted from automation of production activities in the manufacturing sector towards computerisation of information-processing tasks in the service sector. The interview was recorded in April 2014 at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society.
Paolo Manasse, Thomas Manfredi, Saturday, April 19, 2014
Italy’s labour market productivity has been stagnating in the past decade despite numerous reforms. This column gives an explanation why this is so. By focusing exclusively on flexibility, past labour market reforms have completely neglected incentives. There is severe allocative malfunctioning in the Italian labour market. Wages do not reflect sector productivity in the short run, while in the long run they rise in sectors in which productivity falls. Thus, a comprehensive reform of the collective bargaining system is crucial.
Marc J. Melitz, Stephen Redding, Monday, March 10, 2014
Recent research has sought to quantify the magnitude of the welfare gains from trade. One of the main findings from this literature is that the gains from trade are relatively modest. This column suggests a channel that the standard approach typically abstracts from. It argues that trade induces changes in domestic productivity through a more efficient organisation of production within the supply chain.
Theodore H. Moran, Lindsay Oldenski, Tuesday, March 4, 2014
The US has once again ranked among the top two recipient countries for foreign direct investment. This column examines the effects of these large FDI inflows on the US domestic economy. Foreign multinationals are – alongside US-headquartered American multinationals – the most productive and highest-paying segment of the US economy. In addition, they provide positive spillovers to US firms. About 12% of the total productivity growth in the US from 1987 to 2007 can be attributed to productivity spillovers from inward FDI.