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Wage Dynamics: Reconciling Theory and Evidence

  • Lawrence F. Katz
  • Olivier Blanchard

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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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.89.2.69
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 89 (1999)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 69-74

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:89:y:1999:i:2:p:69-74
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.89.2.69
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  1. 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.
  2. Jeff Fuhrer & George Moore, 1993. "Inflation persistence," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Mar.
  3. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 1995. "The Wage Curve," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 026202375x, June.
  4. David Card & Dean Hyslop, 1997. "Does Inflation "Grease the Wheels of the Labor Market"?," NBER Chapters, in: Reducing Inflation: Motivation and Strategy, pages 71-122 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
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