Wage setting

  • The consequences of trade union power erosion

    Declining union power would not be an overwhelming cause for concern if not for rising wage inequality and the loss of worker voice

    John T. Addison, May 2014
    The micro- and macroeconomic effects of the declining power of trade unions have been hotly debated by economists and policymakers. Nevertheless, the empirical evidence shows that the impact of the decline on economic aggregates and firm performance is not an overwhelming cause for concern. However, the association of declining union power with rising earnings inequality and a loss of direct communication between workers and firms is potentially more worrisome. This in turn raises the questions of how supportive contemporary unionism is of wage solidarity, and whether the depiction of the nonunion workplace as an authoritarian “bleak house” is more caricature than reality.
  • Designing labor market regulations in developing countries

    Labor market regulation should aim to improve the functioning of the labor market while protecting workers

    Gordon Betcherman, May 2014
    Governments regulate employment to protect workers and to improve labor market efficiency. However, employment regulations can be controversial, often complicated by opposing ideological views. Thus, it is important for policymakers in developing countries to base decisions on empirical evidence of the impacts of these regulations. The majority of the evidence suggests that most countries have set their regulations in the appropriate range. But it can be costly when countries either overregulate or underregulate their labor market.
  • Perverse effects of two-tier wage bargaining structures

    Two-tier wage bargaining fails to link wages more closely to productivity and increases allocative inefficiencies

    Tito Boeri, January 2015
    Debate over labor market flexibility focuses mainly on firing costs, while largely ignoring wage determination and the need for collective bargaining reform. Most countries affected by the euro debt crisis have two-tier bargaining structures in which plant-level bargaining supplements national or industrywide (multi-employer) agreements, taking the pay agreement established at the multi-employer level as a floor. Two-tier structures were intended to link pay more closely to productivity and to allow wages to adjust downward during economic downturns, while preventing excessive earning dispersion. However, these structures seem to fail precisely on these grounds.
  • Relative pay, effort, and labor supply

    Comparisons to others’ pay and to one’s own past earnings can affect willingness to work and effort on the job

    Anat Bracha, June 2017
    Recent studies show that even irrelevant relative pay information—earnings compared to the past or to others—significantly affects workers’ willingness to work (labor supply) and effort. This effect stems mainly from those whose pay compares unfavorably; accordingly, earning less compared to others or less than in the past significantly reduces one’s willingness to work and effort exerted on the job. Comparing favorably, however, has mixed effects—with usually no effect on effort, but positive or no effects on labor supply. Understanding when relative pay increases labor supply and effort can thus help firms devise optimal payment structures.
  • Do skills matter for wage inequality?

    Policies to tackle wage inequality should focus on skills alongside reform of labor market institutions

    Stijn Broecke, February 2016
    Policymakers in many OECD countries are increasingly concerned about high and rising inequality. Much of the evidence (as far back as Adam Smith’s ) points to the importance of skills in tackling wage inequality. Yet a recent strand of the research argues that (cognitive) skills explain little of the cross-country differences in wage inequality. Does this challenge the received wisdom on the relationship between skills and wage inequality? No, because this recent research fails to account for the fact that the price of skill (and thus wage inequality) is determined to a large extent by the match of skill supply and demand.
  • Union wage effects

    What are the economic implications of union wage bargaining for workers, firms, and society?

    Alex Bryson, July 2014
    Despite declining bargaining power, unions continue to generate a wage premium. Some feel collective bargaining has had its day. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have recently called for the removal of bargaining rights from workers in the name of wage and employment flexibility, yet unions often work in tandem with employers for mutual gain based on productivity growth. If this is where the premium originates, then firms and workers benefit. Without unions bargaining successfully to raise worker wages, income inequality would almost certainly be higher than it is.
  • Aggregate labor productivity

    Labor productivity is generally seen as bringing wealth and prosperity; but how does it vary over the business cycle?

    Michael C. Burda, April 2018
    Aggregate labor productivity is a central indicator of an economy’s economic development and a wellspring of living standards. Somewhat controversially, many macroeconomists see productivity as a primary driver of fluctuations in economic activity along the business cycle. In some countries, the cyclical behavior of labor productivity seems to have changed. In the past 20–30 years, the US has become markedly less procyclical, while the rest of the OECD has not changed or productivity has become even more procyclical. Finding a cogent and coherent explanation of these developments is challenging.
  • The minimum wage versus the earned income tax credit for reducing poverty

    Enhancing the earned income tax credit would do more to reduce poverty, at less cost, than increasing the minimum wage

    Minimum wage increases are not an effective mechanism for reducing poverty. And there is little causal evidence that they do so. Most workers who gain from minimum wage increases do not live in poor (or near-poor) families, while some who do live in poor families lose their job as a result of such increases. The earned income tax credit is an effective way to reduce poverty. It raises only the after-tax wage rates of workers in low- and moderate-income families, its tax credit increases with the number of dependent children, and evidence shows that it increases labor force participation and employment in these families.
  • The effects of public sector employment on the economy

    The size and wage level of the public sector affect overall employment volatility and the economy

    Vincenzo Caponi, January 2017
    Public sector jobs are created because governments opt to provide goods and services produced directly by public employees. Governments, however, may also choose to regulate the size of the public sector in order to stabilize targeted national employment levels. However, economic research suggests that these effects are uncertain and critically depend on how public wages are determined. Rigid public sector wages lead to perverse effects on private employment, while flexible public wages lead to a stabilizing effect. Public employment also has important productivity and redistributive effects.
  • Should firms allow workers to choose their own wage?

    Delegating the choice of wage setting to workers can lead to better outcomes for all involved parties

    Gary B. Charness, January 2016
    Economists typically predict that people are inherently selfish; however, experimental evidence suggests that this is often not the case. In particular, delegating a choice (such as a wage) to the performing party may imbue this party with a sense of responsibility, leading to improved outcomes for both the delegating entity and the performing party. This strategy can be risky, as some people will still choose to act in a selfish manner, causing adverse consequences for productivity and earnings. An important issue to consider is therefore how to encourage a sense of responsibility in the performing party.
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