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.
Masayuki Morikawa, Sunday, November 23, 2014
The appropriate level of public sector wages is debated frequently in every country, and the debate has intensified in the wake of the global financial crisis. This column presents evidence that regional wage differentials in Japan are greater in the private sector than in the public sector. In regions where public sector wages are relatively high, skilled individuals may self-select into public sector jobs. At the same time, public sector employers in metropolitan regions such as Tokyo may have difficulty in hiring high quality employees.
Charles A.E. Goodhart, Philipp Erfurth, Monday, November 3, 2014
There has been a long-term downward trend in labour’s share of national income, depressing both demand and inflation, and thus prompting ever more expansionary monetary policies. This column argues that, while understandable in a short-term business cycle context, this has exacerbated longer-term trends, increasing inequality and financial distortions. Perhaps the most fundamental problem has been over-reliance on debt finance. The authors propose policies to raise the share of equity finance in housing markets; such reforms could be extended to other sectors of the economy.
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.
Frédéric Docquier, Çağlar Özden, Giovanni Peri, Monday, October 6, 2014
Researchers have devoted little attention to the effects of emigration from OECD countries, and the absence of detailed emigration data is the main culprit. Using a new and improved migration database, this column analyses the effect of migration on the wages of less educated native workers. The results suggest that, as far as labour market outcomes of less educated workers are concerned, governments should worry less about new arrivals and more about the potential consequences of their high emigration rates.
Daron Acemoglu, Gino Gancia, Fabrizio Zilibotti, Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Offshoring of production can have a deep impact on the wages and welfare of workers with different abilities through its effect on technological progress. This column argues that, when labour is sufficiently cheap abroad, firms have incentives to offshore low-skill tasks and invest in skill-biased technologies at home. Over time, however, offshoring raises foreign wages. This increases demand for all firms and makes innovations complementing low-skill workers more profitable. As a result, offshoring can eventually lead to higher wages for everybody and less inequality.
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.
Joanne Lindley, Steven McIntosh, Sunday, September 21, 2014
Individuals who work in the finance sector enjoy a significant wage advantage. This column considers three explanations: rent sharing, skill intensity, and task-biased technological change. The UK evidence suggests that rent sharing is the key. The rising premium could then be due to changes in regulation and the increasing complexity of financial products creating more asymmetric information.
Benedicta Marzinotto, Alessandro Turrini, Friday, September 5, 2014
The link between public- and private-sector compensation has important implications for the labour market and price competitiveness. This column reports that manufacturing and government wages co-move both in the long and short run, but that the long-run co-movement is much stronger where the government is an important employer. This co-movement tends to break down during fiscal consolidation periods, except in large-government countries. Moreover, manufacturing wages exhibit a stronger co-movement with productivity in countries where government wages are set via collective bargaining.
Michele Battisti, Gabriel Felbermayr, Giovanni Peri, Panu Poutvaara, Friday, August 8, 2014
Immigration continues to be a hotly debated topic in most OECD countries. Economic models emphasising the benefits of immigration for natives have typically neglected unemployment and redistribution – precisely the things voters are most concerned about. This column analyses the effects of immigration in a world with labour market rigidities and income redistribution. In two-thirds of the 20 countries analysed, both high-skilled and low-skilled natives would benefit from a small increase in immigration from current levels. The average welfare gains from immigration are 1.25% and 1.00% for high- and low-skilled natives, respectively.
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.
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.
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 Blanchflower, Stephen Machin, Monday, May 12, 2014
The pain of the UK’s Great Recession has been spread more evenly than previous downturns, with falling real wages across the distribution. This column asks why this happened, how it compares with the US experience, and what the prospects are for recovering lost wage gains.
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.
Nicholas Crafts, Nikolaus Wolf, Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Europeans worry about competition from low-wage economies. This column looks at the basis of the success of the 19th-century Lancashire cotton industry faced with a similar situation. The message is that the productivity benefits of a successful agglomeration can underpin both high wages and competitive advantage in world trade. Policymakers can support such agglomerations by easing land-use restrictions, promoting investments in transport, and providing local public goods.
Massimo Anelli, Giovanni Peri, Saturday, February 23, 2013
What causes fewer women than men to choose high-earning potential subjects such as engineering, economics or science at undergraduate level? This column presents new evidence from an accidental natural experiment in Italy, suggesting mixed-gender classes at the high-school level reduce the number of women pursuing these subjects. These results suggest that gender-separated classrooms are an effective way to increase women’s career opportunities and salaries.
Stephanie Schmitt-Grohe, Martín Uribe, Sunday, September 16, 2012
Since the onset of the great recession in peripheral Europe, nominal hourly wages have not fallen much from the high levels they had reached during the boom years in spite of widespread increases in unemployment. This paper analyses a number of national and supranational policy options for alleviating the unemployment problem, arguing that it is unlikely that a solution will come from within national borders.
Alex Bryson, Rob Simmons, Giambattista Rossi, Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Are migrants paid more or less than their native colleagues? This column provides a unique insight by looking at data from an industry where there are many foreigners and where their relative quality can be easily measured – professional football in Italy.