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The Relation between Price and Marginal Cost in U.S. Industry


  • Hall, Robert E


An examination of data on output and labor input reveals that some U.S. industries have marginal cost well below price. The conclusion rests on the finding that cyclical variations in labor input are small compared with variations in output. In booms, firms produce substantially more output and sell it for a price that exceeds the costs of the added inputs. This paper documents the disparity between price and marginal cost, where marginal cost is estimated from annual variations in cost. It considers a variety of explanations of the findings that are consistent with competition, but none is found to be completely plausible. Copyright 1988 by University of Chicago Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Hall, Robert E, 1988. "The Relation between Price and Marginal Cost in U.S. Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(5), pages 921-947, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:96:y:1988:i:5:p:921-47

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Paul Krugman, 1986. "Strategic Trade Policy and the New International Economics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262610450, January.
    2. Dornbusch, Rudiger & Fischer, Stanley & Samuelson, Paul A, 1977. "Comparative Advantage, Trade, and Payments in a Ricardian Model with a Continuum of Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(5), pages 823-839, December.
    3. Oswald, Andrew J, 1982. "Trade Unions, Wages and Unemployment: What Can Simple Models Tell Us?," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(3), pages 526-545, November.
    4. McDonald, Ian M & Solow, Robert M, 1981. "Wage Bargaining and Employment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(5), pages 896-908, December.
    5. Diewert, W E, 1974. "The Effects of Unionization on Wages and Employment: A General Equilibrium Analysis," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 12(3), pages 319-339, September.
    6. Freeman, Richard B & Medoff, James L, 1982. "Substitution between Production Labor and Other Inputs in Unionized and Nonunionized Manufacturing," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 64(2), pages 220-233, May.
    7. Freeman, Richard B & Medoff, James L, 1981. "The Impact of the Percentage Organized on Union and Nonunion Wages," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 63(4), pages 561-572, November.
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