Offshoring and skill-biased technical change
Daron Acemoglu, Gino Gancia, Fabrizio Zilibotti 30 September 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.
Offshoring, the demand for skill, and biased innovations
The rapid rise of offshoring has been one of the most visible trends in the US labour market over the last three decades. Despite its prevalence, the implications for wages and skill premia are still debated (see, for instance, Grossman and Rossi-Hansberg 2008 and Baldwin and Robert-Nicoud 2014).
International trade Labour markets Poverty and income inequality Productivity and Innovation
offshoring, skill-biased technical change, Inequality, wages, technological progress, innovation
Finance sector wages: explaining their high level and growth
Joanne Lindley, Steven McIntosh 21 September 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.
Individuals who work in the finance sector enjoy a significant wage advantage. This wage premium has received increasing attention from researchers following the financial crisis, with focus being put onto wages at the top of the distribution in general, and finance sector wages in particular (see Bell and Van Reenen 2010, 2013 for discussion in the UK context). Policymakers have also targeted this wage premium, with the recent implementation of the Capital Requirements Directive capping bankers’ bonuses at a maximum of one year of salary from 2014.
Financial markets Microeconomic regulation
Bankers’ bonuses, banking, wages, Inequality, UK, regulation, asymmetric information, Executive compensation, Finance, task-biased technological change, ICT
Endowments for war in 1914
Avner Offer 19 September 2014
Victory in World War I relied on three types of energy: renewable energy for food and fodder, fossil energy, and high explosive. This column argues that the Allies had a clear advantage in manpower, coal, and agriculture, but not enough for a quick decision. Mobilisation in continental economies curtailed food production, occasionally to a critical level. Technical competition was a matter of capacity for innovation, not of particular breakthroughs. Coercive military service and rationing of scarce energy and food had egalitarian consequences that continued after the war.
World War I was a mistake. Its consequences were not part of anybody’s expectations (excepting Stead and Bloch 1899) – certainly not of those who set it off, although there was an undertone of fatalism in their decisions (Offer 1995). If one side had possessed an unassailable superiority, then there would have been no call for war. The war’s duration indicates that the sides were matched, that the outcome was uncertain, and that instigating war was therefore a colossal gamble – and, as it turned out, a bad one. The decisions for war were irresponsible, incompetent, and worse.
Economic history Energy
WWI, World War I, war, imperialism, nationalism, energy, Agriculture, technology, technological change, innovation, conscription, Inequality, rationing
Volatile top income shares in Switzerland? Reassessing the evolution between 1981 and 2009
Reto Foellmi, Isabel Martínez 31 August 2014
Switzerland has had consistently low tax rates and a remarkably stable income distribution, although in the last 20 years the share of top incomes has risen. This column documents that the top 0.01%’s share doubled, meaning Switzerland is similar to European countries in terms of the top 1%’s income share, but closer to the US for higher top incomes. Labour incomes have grown in importance among top income earners. At the same time, however, top incomes have exhibited large and possibly increasing variations over the business cycle.
The evolution of inequality in income and wealth has attracted substantial attention in recent decades. Academics have been trying to capture the relation between distribution and growth patterns – most recently and prominently Piketty (2014) in his widely discussed book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Research on income distributions has notably focused on the top of the earnings distribution, in particular because changes in the very top incomes account for a large part of overall inequality in quantitative terms.
Europe's nations and regions Poverty and income inequality
Switzerland, Inequality, income inequality, wealth inequality
Inheritance flows in Sweden, 1810–2010
Jesper Roine, Henry Ohlsson, Daniel Waldenström 08 August 2014
The extent to which lifetime incomes are determined by inherited wealth is a politically sensitive issue, but long-run evidence on this question is limited. This column presents evidence on Swedish inheritance flows since the early 19th century. Despite a long history of aristocracy, accumulated capital was small relative to income in pre-industrial Sweden. In more recent times, Sweden stands out as a country where the return of capital has not automatically translated into a return of inherited wealth.
Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Piketty 2014) has received enormous attention since its publication. A fundamental question raised is whether a person’s lifetime income is the result of his or her own efforts or, alternatively, founded on inheritance. Even for those who believe that inequality does not matter as long as it is based on one’s own effort, the potential of a return to high levels of inequality based on inheritance is a totally different matter. To many people, such a development would be much less acceptable than increased inequality per se.
Economic history Europe's nations and regions Poverty and income inequality
Sweden, Inequality, inheritance, wealth, capital, capital accumulation
Sourcing foreign inputs to improve firm performance
Maria Bas, Vanessa Strauss-Kahn 14 July 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.
Should trade policy fight or promote imports of intermediate inputs? While several studies have shown the recent increase in imports of intermediate goods, their role in shaping domestic economies is not yet completely understood. Following the work of Feenstra and Hanson (1996), a large literature focuses on the impact of imported intermediate inputs on employment and inequality. It concludes that, like outsourcing, imported intermediate inputs have a role (although limited) in explaining job losses and wage reductions.
employment, productivity, wages, Inequality, trade, exports, outsourcing, imports, global value chains, Intermediate inputs
Institutions, trade shocks, and regional differences in long-run educational and development trajectories
André Carlos Martínez, Aldo Musacchio, Martina Viarengo 09 July 2014
Institutions are known to play a powerful and enduring role in countries’ divergent levels of economic development. This column presents evidence that institutions matter for within-country inequality, too. In Brazil, changes in export prices and export tax revenues led to an increase in education spending in states that experienced commodity booms, which increased the number of schools and improved educational outcomes such as literacy rates. However, the effect was limited in states where slavery was predominant in colonial times.
Understanding the determinants of long-run socio-economic development is a major concern for academics and policymakers in many countries around the world. In particular, beyond understanding differences in development or educational and other outcomes across countries, the origins of within-country inequality are now a fundamental issue, given the impact inequality has on the long-run prosperity of nations.
Development Economic history Education
development, education, growth, institutions, Inequality, Brazil, colonialism, trade shocks, extractive institutions
Globalisation, job security, and wages
Kerem Cosar, Nezih Guner, James R Tybout 07 July 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.
How does increased openness to international trade affect workers’ wages and job security? This question is central to the public debate concerning the effects of globalisation, but convincing quantitative answers have been difficult to come by. One fundamental reason is that major trade liberalisation episodes have often coincided with labour reforms (Heckman and Pages 2004). Colombia is a case in point. As Figure 1 shows, this country experienced deindustrialisation, higher job turnover rates, and heightened wage inequality in the years following its 1986–1991 trade liberalisation.
International trade Labour markets
productivity, unemployment, globalisation, wages, trade liberalisation, Inequality, labour market reforms, exports, Colombia, job security
Capital is not back: A comment on Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’
Odran Bonnet, Pierre-Henri Bono, Guillaume Camille Chapelle, Étienne Wasmer 30 June 2014
Thomas Piketty’s claim that the ratio of capital to national income is approaching 19th-century levels has fuelled the debate over inequality. This column argues that Piketty’s claim rests on the recent increase in the price of housing. Other forms of capital are, relative to income, at much lower levels than they were a century ago. Moreover, it is rents – not house prices – that should matter for the dynamics of wealth inequality, and rents have been stable as a proportion of national income in many countries.
The impressive success of Thomas Piketty’s book (Piketty 2014) shows that inequality is a great concern in most countries. His claim that “capital is back”, because the ratio of capital over income is returning to the levels of the end of the 19th century, is probably one of the most striking conclusions of his 700 pages. Acknowledging the considerable interest of this book and the effort it represents, we nevertheless think this conclusion is wrong, due to the particular way capital is measured in national accounts.
house prices, housing, Inequality, rents, housing bubble, capital, wealth inequality
Is Piketty’s ‘Second Law of Capitalism’ fundamental?
Per Krusell, Tony Smith 01 June 2014
Thomas Piketty’s new book has been widely praised for its empirical contribution, but his prediction of rising inequality rests on economic theory. This column argues that Piketty’s pessimistic forecast is based on an extreme – and unrealistic – assumption about households’ saving behaviour. According to standard theory, the wealth–income ratio would increase only modestly as growth falls, so declining growth would not be a powerful force for generating high inequality.
Over the last several weeks, we have thought quite a bit about the main message in Thomas Piketty’s now world-famous book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Piketty 2014). We have also discussed it at great length with colleagues. In sum, at least in our departments, there has been a massive collective effort at interpreting both the material presented in the book and the background material on which the book builds. In this column we would like to present one perspective on the book that does not seem to have attracted sufficient attention in the public discussions.
Poverty and income inequality
growth, Inequality, wealth, saving, savings