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A Statistical Equilibrium Approach to the Distribution of Profit Rates

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  • Ellis Scharfenaker
  • Gregor Semieniuk

Abstract

Following the work of Farjoun and Machover (1983) who propose a probabilistic approach to classical political economy, we study the empirical distribution of the rate of profit for previously unexamined firm level data. We detail the theoretical rationale of the principle of maximum entropy which Farjoun and Machover use to predict a stationary profit rate distribution. Then we examine their hypothesis of gamma distributed profit rates for over 24,000 publicly listed North American firms from 1962-2014 and find strong evidence for the organization of the distribution into a double exponential, or Laplace like distribution both at the economy wide and one and two digit SIC industry levels. In addition, we find that the otherwise stationary profit rate distributions exhibit a structural change following the 1980s as they display a surge in the fraction of firms earning negative profits. We offer an alternative justification for the Laplace distribution based on maximum entropy reasoning and show that this distribution can be surprisingly explained by a single constraint on the absolute deviation of profit rates from the mean.
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Suggested Citation

  • Ellis Scharfenaker & Gregor Semieniuk, 2017. "A Statistical Equilibrium Approach to the Distribution of Profit Rates," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(3), pages 465-499, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:metroe:v:68:y:2017:i:3:p:465-499
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/meca.12134
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    JEL classification:

    • B4 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology
    • B5 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches

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