Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. Andre Gide

Friday, August 31, 2012

Is wage rigidity the problem?

Many economists claim that wage rigidity plays an important role in the (mis)allocation of resources in the labor market. Both "Keynesian" (Krugman) and "Monetarist" (Sumner) thinking emphasizes sticky nominal wages. "Labor Search" theories (Hall and Shimer) emphasize real wage stickiness; see here.

I've always been somewhat skeptical of these stories (note: Keynes himself did not emphasize stick wages in the GT--in fact, he argued that wage flexibility makes matters worse!).

My skepticism is fueled by stories like the one I read today: Majority of New Jobs Pay Lower Wages, Study Finds. An excerpt:
The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.  
The job market has turned around since then, but those fields have represented only 22 percent of total job growth. Higher-wage occupations — those with a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 — represented 19 percent of job losses when employment was falling, and 20 percent of job gains when employment began growing again.  
Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.
Seems to me that even if nominal wages appear to be sticky within occupational groups, there is a high degree of de facto flexibility via occupational choices (on both the supply and demand sides).
My gut feeling is that theories that rely on some "wage stickiness hypothesis" are barking up the wrong tree. The assumption of wage stickiness is often supported by appealing to the empirical evidence. But as I explain here, wages that appear to be sticky to an econometrician may not be sticky in any economically meaningful sense. And as the evidence above suggests, there seems to be much more wage flexibility out there than is commonly assumed. But I'm willing to listen to the other side of the story...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kotlikoff Speaks Out

Laurence Kotlikoff
I haven't had much time to blog lately, but I thought I'd link up to this piece by Laurence Kotlikoff, which caught my eye: Economists Risk Labeling as Political Hacks. An excerpt:
Professional Rot 
The decision of the 500 U.S. economists, many from the leading ranks of the profession, to trade in their credentials as economists for that of campaign workers is just the latest sign that something’s rotten in economics. The documentary “Inside Job,” demonstrated how prominent economists failed to disclose, as standard ethics require, when they are being paid for their professional opinions. 
Then there is the increasingly nasty op-ed war pursued by political economists, such as Paul Krugman and Glenn Hubbard, who have so closely aligned themselves with one of the two parties that it’s impossible to know where their politics stop and their economic analyses begin. 
The worst part of all this is that the new political economics routinely diverges so far from economic theory and fact.
Agree? Disagree? (Please -- no mindless drivel -- I will delete)