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  • Author: Robert Z. Lawrence
  • Publication Date: 06-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: Over the past decade, the US economy has been plagued by sluggish wage growth and rising income inequality. The debate over inequality in the 1980s and 1990s focused on the growing disparity between the earnings of skilled and unskilled workers and the earnings of the super-rich. Growing inequality between capital and labor income has now been added to these concerns. Remarkably, the growth in real GDP per worker over the decade of the 2000s, which averaged 1.7 percent annually, was actually more rapid than in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, yet in the 2000s workers saw almost no increase in their take-home pay. Consistent with this gap between labor productivity and wage growth was a pronounced decline in the share of US national income earned by workers. As labor's share has declined, the share of capital has risen and has been especially concentrated in corporate profits. As profits are far less equally distributed than wages, this increase has contributed to rising income inequality. There are several plausible reasons for this development—globalization, automation, weak bargaining power of labor, political capture, higher markups—but the natural starting point for explaining factor income shares is the neoclassical theory of the functional distribution of income enumerated by John Hicks and Joan Robinson in the 1930s. In this framework there are two possible explanations for labor's recent declining share. The first is that capital and labor are gross substitutes, and the second is that capital and labor are gross complements. Several papers have explained the recent decline in labor's share in income by claiming that capital has been substituted for labor. Lawrence puts forward the alternative "gross complements" explanation for the declining US labor share. He shows that despite a rise in measured capital-labor ratios, labor-augmenting technical change in the United States has been sufficiently rapid that effective capital-labor ratios have actually fallen in the sectors and industries that account for the largest portion of the declining labor share in income since 1980. In combination with estimates that corroborate the consensus in the literature that the elasticity of substitution is less than 1, these declines in the effective capital-labor ratio can account for much of the recent fall in labor's share in US income at both the aggregate and industry level. Paradoxically, these results also suggest that increased capital formation, ideally achieved through a progressive consumption tax, would raise labor's share in income.
  • Topic: Economics, Globalization, Markets, Labor Issues
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: Edwin M. Truman
  • Publication Date: 08-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: This paper traces the evolution of the Federal Reserve and its engagement with the global economy over the last three decades of the 20th century: 1970 to 2000. The paper examines the Federal Reserve's role in international economic and financial policy and analysis covering four areas: the emergence and taming of the great inflation, developments in US external accounts, foreign exchange analysis and activities, and external financial crises. It concludes that during this period the US central bank emerged to become the closest the world has to a global central bank.
  • Topic: Economics, Foreign Exchange, Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: William R. Cline, Jared Nolan
  • Publication Date: 07-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: This paper applies time series analysis to distinguish between cyclical and demographic causes of the decline of the labor force participation rate. Some public discussions suggest that the decline of US unemployment from its 2009 peak of 10 percent to about 6 percent by mid-2014 grossly exaggerates recovery because most of the decline reflects the exit of discouraged workers from the labor force. This study finds instead that one-half to two-thirds of the decline in labor force participation by about 3 percentage points from late 2007 to early 2014 is attributable to aging of the population. Although about one-third is found attributable to the lagged influence of high, and especially long-term, unemployment, going forward the potential rebound in the participation rate from recovery is projected to be approximately offset by further aging of the population.
  • Topic: Demographics, Economics, Labor Issues, Population
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: William R. Cline
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: This paper applies the probabilistic debt sustainability model developed for the euro area in Cline (2012, 2014) to sovereign debt in the United States and Japan. The results indicate that to avoid further increases in the expected ratio of public debt to GDP over the next decade, average annual primary deficits will need to be reduced by about 0.75 percent of GDP in the United States and by about 3 percent of GDP in Japan from the likely baselines as of mid-2014.
  • Topic: Debt, Diplomacy, International Trade and Finance
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, East Asia
  • Author: David G. Blanchflower, David N. F. Bell
  • Publication Date: 08-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: One of the factors that may inhibit reductions in unemployment as the economy recovers is the extent to which existing workers would like to work more hours and employers may prefer to let them work longer hours before making new hires. This phenomenon suggests that the unemployment rate does not capture the full extent of excess capacity in the labor market. But how should it be measured? In this paper we argue that the United States does not have the necessary statistical tools to calibrate this form of underemployment. We describe an index that captures the joint effects of unemployment and underemployment and provides a more complete picture of labor market excess capacity. We show how this index can be implemented using British data and describe its evolution over the Great Recession. Comparisons of our index with unemployment rates suggest that unemployment rates understate differences in labor market excess capacity by age group and overstate differences by gender. We also show that being unable to work the hours that one desires has a negative effect on well-being. Finally, we recommend that the Current Population Survey conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics might be extended to enable the construction of an equivalent US index.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Markets, Labor Issues
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe
  • Author: C. Randall Henning, Martin Kessler
  • Publication Date: 01-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: European debates over reform of the fiscal governance of the euro area frequently reference fiscal federalism in the United States. The “fiscal compact” agreed by the European Council during 2011 provided for the introduction of, among other things, constitutional rules or framework laws known as “debt brakes” in the member states of the euro area. In light of the compact and proposals for deeper fiscal union, we review US fiscal federalism from Alexander Hamilton to the present. We note that within the US system the states are “sovereign”: The federal government does not mandate balanced budgets nor, since the 1840s, does it bail out states in fiscal trouble. States adopted balanced budget rules of varying strength during the nineteenth century and these rules limit debt accumulation. Before introducing debt brakes for euro area member states, however, Europeans should consider three important caveats. First, debt brakes are likely to be more durable and effective when “owned” locally rather than mandated centrally. Second, maintaining a capacity for countercyclical macroeconomic stabilization is essential. Balanced budget rules have been viable in the US states because the federal government has a broad set of fiscal powers, including countercyclical fiscal action. Finally, because debt brakes threaten to collide with bank rescues, the euro area should unify bank regulation and create a common fiscal pool for restructuring the banking system.
  • Topic: Debt, Financial Crisis, Governance
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe
  • Author: Jacob Funk Kirkegaard
  • Publication Date: 10-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: In this paper Kirkegaard presents new micro-level data consisting of individual greenfield investment projects and mergers and acquisitions as a source for detailed analysis of services sector cross-border investment flows among the Asian Development Bank (ADB) regional membership in Asia. The new transactional foreign direct investment (FDI) data are methodologically distinct from traditional BPM5-compliant FDI data but found to yield generally comparable aggregates, when compared with the latest available International Monetary Fund (IMF) data from the Comprehensive Direct Investment Survey for the ADB regional membership. The services sectors are found to receive considerably larger amounts of foreign investment, when compared with the Asian region's manufacturing and raw materials sectors. OECD countries account for roughly three-quarters of total recorded inward services sector FDI of about $2 trillion, relatively evenly split between the United States, the EU-27, and regional OECD-level-income countries. The presence of sizable regional "upward flowing" services sector investments into OECD-level-income economies is verified. Kirkegaard draws preliminary policy conclusions based on the new transactional FDI data results concerning prospects for regional services sector liberalization, threshold income levels for inward services sector FDI, upward-flowing regional services FDI, and preferred modes of services sector investments.
  • Topic: Economics, Emerging Markets, International Trade and Finance, Foreign Direct Investment
  • Political Geography: United States, Israel, Asia
  • Author: Olivier Jeanne
  • Publication Date: 05-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: Has the US dollar delivered the benefit that the rest of the world is expecting from its holdings of international liquidity? US government debt has been liquid and safe, and it is supplied in sufficient quantity. But it has given a low return to the countries that accumulated the most reserves, especially when those returns are measured in terms of the countries' own consumption. Jeanne argues that countries that accumulate the most reserves should expect a low return in terms of their own consumption and that international monetary reform can do little to change that fact.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Markets
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: Daniel Danxia Xie
  • Publication Date: 02-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: This paper provides new evidence on the long-run relationship between economic growth and labor's share in national income, based on a comprehensive panel data set for 123 countries from 1950 to 2004. Xie's primary finding is that labor's share follows a cubic relationship with real GDP per capita over the long process of development. At the beginning of the modern economic growth process, the share of labor in national income first decreases until an initial threshold is reached. After that, labor's share keeps increasing until the country's GDP per capita reaches a second threshold before falling again. Xie argues that these dynamics apply not only to the less developed countries in the postwar years, but also to the advanced countries like the United States and the United Kingdom during their early economic take-offs, starting in the late 18th and 19th century, respectively. Finally, he proposes a two-sector constant elasticity of substitution (CES)-type growth model and simulate the model to replicate and explain the possible mechanism behind such a nonlinear pattern of movements in labor's share.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Labor Issues, Monetary Policy
  • Political Geography: United States, United Kingdom
  • Author: Morris Goldstein, Nicolas Véron
  • Publication Date: 01-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: Although the United States and the European Union were both seriously impacted by the financial crisis of 2007, resulting policy debates and regulatory responses have differed considerably on the two sides of the Atlantic. In this paper the authors examine the debates on the problem posed by "too big to fail" financial institutions. They identify variations in historical experiences, financial system structures, and political institutions that help one understand the differences of approaches between the United States, EU member states, and the EU institutions in addressing this problem. The authors then turn to possible remedies and how they may be differentially implemented in America and Europe. They conclude on which policy developments are likely in the near future.
  • Topic: Economics, Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: United States, America, Europe