Price Fishback, 12 November 2019

The US became the ‘arsenal of democracy’ by producing a massive amount of military goods that raised real GDP by 72% between 1940 and 1945. Yet, multiplier estimates for this expansion in government spending are less than one. Long-range studies at subnational levels show that military spending was associated with small effects on per capita activity. Military spending in the context of a quasi-command economy crowded out private consumption and investment and forced people into the military. In essence, Americans sacrificed heavily to win the war, while their Allies sacrificed even more.  

Eric Golson, 11 November 2019

Neutrality has long been viewed as impartiality in war. This column, part of the Vox debate on World War II, asserts that neutral states in the war were realist in approaching their defence to ensure their survival. Neutrals such as Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland maintained independence by offering economic concessions to the belligerents to make up for their relative military weakness. Economic concessions took the form of merchandise trade, services, labour, and capital flows. Depending on their position and the changing fortunes of war, neutral countries could also extract concessions from the belligerents, if their situation permitted.

Jakob Molinder, Tobias Karlsson, Kerstin Enflo, 23 October 2019

History has shown that new technology can disrupt societies, and current developments in automation have raised anxious speculation on what might happen if stable middle-class jobs are taken over by machines. This column analyses the impact of technological change on labour markets and social protests, taking the case of the adoption of electricity in early 20th century Sweden. It finds that electrification did increase the incidence of local strikes, but that disputes were associated with workers demanding higher wages and better working conditions rather than attempting to block innovation.

Joan Costa-i-Font, Belén Sáenz de Miera, 20 October 2019

Changes in working hours and the associated time and energy consumed during work can exert an important influence on people’s fitness. However, the effects of such changes on health behaviour and obesity are not well understood. This column examines the effects of a 2001 French national reform that reduced working hours on employee obesity and overweight. Although reduced working times could, in theory, be used for health-promoting activities, in practice it had different effects on white- and blue-collar workers. Policies to reduce working hours alone do not necessarily produce better fitness for everyone.

Sotiris Blanas, Gino Gancia, Tim Lee, 10 October 2019

Since the early 1980s, technology has reduced the demand for low and medium-skill workers, the young, and women, especially in manufacturing industries. The column investigates which technologies have had the largest effect, and on which types of worker. It finds that robots and software raised the demand for high-skill workers, older workers, and men, especially in service industries. 

Stefania Garetto, Lindsay Oldenski, Natalia Ramondo, 08 October 2019

Multinational enterprises play an important role in coordinating production around the globe. This column presents a dynamic quantitative model of multinational enterprise expansion that can be used to analyse the effects of policies that affect the cost of the operations of such firms. It uses this model to estaimte the impact of potential implementations of Brexit.

Jakub Growiec, Peter McAdam, Jakub Mućk, 24 June 2019

The worldwide decline of the labour share is worrying, because the labour share is thought to be too low. This column attempts to derive an estimate of the socially optimal labour share. The calibration implies that the socially optimal share is 17% higher than the historical average. 

Alan Benson, Danielle Li, Kelly Shue, 24 April 2019

The Peter Principle states that organisations promote people who are good at their jobs until they reach their ‘level of incompetence’, implying that all managers are incompetent. This column examines data on worker- and manager-level performance for almost 40,000 sales workers across 131 firms and finds evidence that firms systematically promote the best salespeople, even though these workers end up becoming worse managers, and even though there are other observable dimensions of sales worker performance that better predict managerial quality. 

Christian Krekel, George Ward, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, 21 April 2019

A growing number of companies place a high priority on the wellbeing of their workers, assuming that happier workers will lead to improved productivity. This column examines this link based on a meta-analysis of independent studies accumulated by Gallup, covering the wellbeing and productivity of nearly 2 million employees and the performance of over 80,000 business units, originating from 230 independent organisations across 49 industries in 73 countries. The results suggest a strong positive correlation between employee wellbeing, productivity, and firm performance.

Isamu Yamamoto, 14 March 2019

The adoption of new information technologies such as AI in more workplaces is influencing not just employment and wages, but worker well-being such as job satisfaction, stress, and health. Surveying approximately 10,000 workers in Japan, this column analyses the impact of new information technologies on the nature of tasks performed by workers, job satisfaction, and work-related stress. It finds that AI adoption contributes to both greater job satisfaction and increased stress, and considers approaches to maximise the positives of new technologies adoption while minimising its negative side effects.

Luc Laeven, Peter McAdam, Alexander Popov, 10 December 2018

There are good arguments both in favour and against the idea that more labour market flexibility will deliver benefits to an economy during a downturn. This column presents novel evidence on this question, using data from Spain during the 2008–09 credit crunch. The results show that credit-constrained firms grow faster if they are subject to less strict firing and hiring restrictions, as long as they are technologically able to substitute labour for capital. The findings provide an argument in favour of more flexible labour laws.

Aline Bütikofer, Sissel Jensen, Kjell G. Salvanes, 29 November 2018

A recent literature argues that a ‘motherhood penalty’ is a main contributor to the persistent gender wage gap in the upper part of the earnings distribution. Using Norwegian registry data, this column studies the effect of parenthood on the careers of high-achieving women relative to high-achieving men in a set of high-earning professions. It finds that the child earnings penalty is substantially larger for mothers with an MBA or law degree than for mothers with a STEM or medical degree.

John Ameriks, Joseph Briggs, Andrew Caplin, Minjoon Lee, Matthew D. Shapiro, Christopher Tonetti, 29 October 2018

As countries such as the US face increasingly ageing populations, policymakers face the question of whether to encourage workers to work beyond historical retirement age. Using strategic survey questions, this column gauges whether older Americans stop working due to their lack of interest in working longer or due to lack of opportunity, and finds that it may be the latter. The revealed strong willingness to work implies that job opportunities with flexible schedules are hard for older Americans to find. 

Simon Wren-Lewis, 27 June 2018

Thomas Cooley, Espen Henriksen, 11 June 2018

Demographic change represents an important contributing factor to the slowdown of long-run growth. This column explores some of the channels through which this occurs and how the effects of demographic change can be mitigated. Policies that target consumption-saving choices, labour-leisure choices, and human capital accumulation over the lifecycle are likely to be most effective.

Ravi Kanbur, 08 January 2018

Technological innovation is broadly accepted as a driving force behind diverging wage trends in the last three decades. If this is set to continue, policymakers must choose how to respond to the ensuing income inequality. This column assesses two established policy response ideas – state-sponsored formal education, and tax and transfer mechanisms – and postulates a third, namely, that the pace and distributional effects of technological change should themselves be policy goals. A policy intervention that would make innovation more labour intensive would be the most powerful response of all.

Leonardo Gasparini, Guillermo Cruces, Sebastian Galiani, Pablo Acosta, 05 January 2018

While income dispersion significantly increased over the 1990s in most Latin American countries, the 2000s were characterised by a widespread fall in socioeconomic and labour disparities. This column uses a supply-demand framework to explore changes in labour market returns to education in the region. The relative supply of skilled labour rose consistently over the period, while the wage skill premium rose then fell. Supply-side factors seem less important than demand-side factors in accounting for changes in the skill premium, especially between workers with a tertiary education and the rest.

Ricardo Caballero, Emmanuel Farhi, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, 13 December 2017

The US has seen a fall in real interest rates but stable real returns on productive capital in the last few decades. This column argues that these divergent trends are inherently interlinked, and arise from a combination of a rise in the capital risk premium, an increase in monopoly rents from mark-ups, and capital-biased technical change. With these secular trends unlikely to reverse anytime soon, we are likely to live in a prolonged era of low interest rates, high capital risk premia, and low labour share.

Rüdiger Bachmann, Christian Bayer, Christian Merkl, Stefan Seth, Heiko Stüber, Felix Wellschmied, 01 November 2017

Many establishments both hire and lay off within a short time window, resulting in ‘churn’. This column uses a newly constructed dataset to show that the rate of churn in Germany is high and can be up to 40% greater in booms compared to recessions. Both establishments that are shrinking and those that are growing hire more and lay off more in booms than in recessions.

David Byrne, Dan Sichel, 22 August 2017

One explanation given for the apparent recent slowdown in labour productivity growth in advanced economies is poor measurement. This column argues that while the available evidence on mismeasurement does not in fact provide an explanation for the slowdown, innovation is much more rapid than would be inferred from official measures, and on-going gains in the digital economy make the productivity slowdown even more puzzling. At the same time, this continued technical advance could provide the basis for a future pickup in productivity growth.

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