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Uncertainty and the Specificity of Human Capital

  • Martin Gervais
  • Igor Livshits
  • Césaire Meh

This paper studies the choice between general and specific human capital. A trade-off arises because general human capital, while less productive, can easily be reallocated across firms. Accordingly, the fraction of individuals with specific human capital depends on the amount of uncertainty in the economy. Our model implies that while economies with more specific human capital tend to be more productive, they also tend to be more vulnerable to turbulence. As such, our theory sheds some light on the experience of Japan, where human capital is notoriously specific: while Japan benefited from this predominately specific labor force in tranquil times, this specificity may also have been at the heart of its prolonged stagnation.

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File URL: http://www.bankofcanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/wp07-57.pdf
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Paper provided by Bank of Canada in its series Working Papers with number 07-57.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bca:bocawp:07-57
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  1. Fumio Hayashi & Edward C. Prescott, 2002. "Data Appendix to The 1990s in Japan: A Lost Decade," Technical Appendices hayashi02, Review of Economic Dynamics.
  2. Ljungqvist, Lars & Sargent, Thomas J., 1997. "The European Unemployment Dilemma," Working Paper Series 481, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
  3. Michael E. Porter & Mariko Sakakibara, 2004. "Competition in Japan," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 27-50, Winter.
  4. den Haan, Wouter J. & Haefke, Christian & Ramey, Garey, 2004. "Turbulence and Unemployment in a Job Matching Model," IZA Discussion Papers 1403, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Ricardo J. Caballero & Takeo Hoshi & Anil K. Kashyap, 2008. "Zombie Lending and Depressed Restructuring in Japan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1943-77, December.
  6. Odagiri, Hiroyuki & Yamawaki, Hideki, 1986. "A study of company profit-rate time series : Japan and the United States," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 1-23, March.
  7. Dirk Krueger & Krishna B. Kumar, 2004. "Skill-Specific rather than General Education: A Reason for US--Europe Growth Differences?," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 167-207, 06.
  8. Diego A. Comin & Thomas Philippon, 2006. "The Rise in Firm-Level Volatility: Causes and Consequences," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2005, Volume 20, pages 167-228 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Fumio Hayashi & Edward C. Prescott, 2004. "The 1990s in Japan: a lost decade," Chapters, in: The Economics of an Ageing Population, chapter 2 Edward Elgar.
  10. Martin Gervais & Igor Livshits, 2010. "Uncertainty, Specificity and Institutions," 2010 Meeting Papers 521, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  11. Lars Ljungqvist & Thomas J. Sargent, 2004. "European Unemployment and Turbulence Revisited in a Matching Model," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(2-3), pages 456-468, 04/05.
  12. Takeo Hoshi & Anil K. Kashyap, 2004. "Japan's Financial Crisis and Economic Stagnation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 3-26, Winter.
  13. Wasmer, Etienne, 2003. "Interpreting European and US Labour Market Differences: The Specificity of Human Capital Investments," CEPR Discussion Papers 3780, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  14. John Coleman, 2006. "Accommodating Emerging Giants," 2006 Meeting Papers 50, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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