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Does It Matter What We Trade? Trade and Industrial Policies When Labor Markets Don't Clear

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  • William T. Dickens
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    Abstract

    In efficiency wage models firms set employment so that the value of the marginal revenue product of labor (VMRPL) equals the wage. If the payment of efficiency wages results in inter-industry wage differences for comparable workers there exist welfare enhancing industrial and trade policies which shift employment from low to high wage industries. Previous attempts to measure the potential impact of such policies have assumed that wages equal the VMRPL, but not all explanations for inter-industry wage differences have that property. This paper argues, from the evidence on inter-industry wage differences that rent-sharing/extraction models should be preferred to other explanations. However, such models do not all have the property that wages equal the VMRPL. In the model presented VNRPL is set equal to the opportunity cost of labor so policies to shift employment to high wage industries would be of no value. Further, the empirical work that has been done to assess the importance of labor market distortions for trade and industrial policy is inapplicable if such models are the correct explanation for inter-industry wage differences. A rent-extraction model that takes into account workers' limited information about the profitability of the company they work for is developed. In that model high wage industries have high VPL so policies to shift employment to high wage industries are appropriate and past empirical studies of the effects of trade and industrial policy are approximately correct.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w3285.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3285.

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    Date of creation: Mar 1990
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    Publication status: published as Industrial Relations Research Association Series: Second Annual Meeting, December 28-30, 1989, Atlanta, pp. 527-535, 1990.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3285

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    1. Brown, James N & Ashenfelter, Orley, 1986. "Testing the Efficiency of Employment Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(3), pages S40-S87, June.
    2. Alan B. Krueger & Lawrence H. Summers, 1986. "Reflections on the Inter-Industry Wage Structure," NBER Working Papers 1968, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. William T. Dickens, 1986. "Wages, Employment and the Threat of Collective Action by Workers," NBER Working Papers 1856, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. William T. Dickens & Lawrence F. Katz, 1987. "Inter-Industry Wage Differences and Theories of Wage Determination," NBER Working Papers 2271, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Johnson, George E, 1990. "Work Rules, Featherbedding, and Pareto-optimal Union-Management Bargaining," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages S237-59, January.
    6. Krueger, Alan B & Summers, Lawrence H, 1988. "Efficiency Wages and the Inter-industry Wage Structure," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 259-93, March.
    7. Lindbeck, Assar & Snower, Dennis J, 1986. "Wage Setting, Unemployment, and Insider-Outsider Relations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 235-39, May.
    8. David Card, 1986. "Efficient Contracts with Costly Adjustment: Short-RUn Employment Determination for Airline Mechanics," NBER Working Papers 1931, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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