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Wage Dynamics: Reconciling Theory and Evidence

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  • Olivier Jean Blanchard
  • Lawrence Katz

Abstract

U.S. macroeconomic evidence shows a negative relation between the rate of change of wages and unemployment. In contrast, most theories of wage determination imply a negative relation between the level of wages and unemployment. In this paper, we ask whether one can reconcile the empirical evidence with theoretical wage relations. We reach three main conclusions. First, we derive the condition under which the two can indeed be reconciled. We show the constraints that such a condition imposes on the determinants of workers' reservation wages as well as the relative importance of workers' outside options as opposed to match specific productivity in wage determination. Second, in the light of this condition, we reinterpret the presence of an "error correction" term in macroeconomic wage relations for most European economies but not in the United States. Third, we show that whether this condition holds or not has important implications for the effects of a number of variables -- from real interest rates to oil prices to payroll taxes -- on the natural rate of unemployment.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6924.

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Date of creation: Feb 1999
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Publication status: published as American Economic Review, Vol. 89 (May 1999): 69-74.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6924

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  1. Jeff Fuhrer & George Moore, 1993. "Inflation persistence," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Mar.
  2. David Card & Dean Hyslop, 1996. "Does Inflation "Grease the Wheels of the Labor Market"?," NBER Working Papers 5538, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Abowd, John M. & Kramarz, Francis & Margolis, David N. & Troske, Kenneth R., 2001. "The Relative Importance of Employer and Employee Effects on Compensation: A Comparison of France and the United States," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 419-436, December.
  4. Blanchflower, D. & Oswald, A., 1989. "The Wage Curve," Papers 340, London School of Economics - Centre for Labour Economics.
  5. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
  6. Mortensen, Dale T & Pissarides, Christopher A, 1994. "Job Creation and Job Destruction in the Theory of Unemployment," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(3), pages 397-415, July.
  7. Karl Whelan, 1997. "Wage curve vs. Phillips curve: are there macroeconomic implications?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1997-51, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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