An empirical analysis of inflation in OECD countries
One of the most remarkable macroeconomic developments of the past decade has been the widespread decline in inflation despite declines in unemployment rates. For the United States, these seemingly contradictory developments have been reconciled in terms of three factors: (1) an acceleration in productivity, (2) structural changes in labor markets that lowered the natural unemployment rate (NAIRU), and (3) improved credibility of monetary policy. Here we ask whether comparable factors were at work in foreign industrial countries. To address this question, we empirically characterize the relationship between inflation, the unemployment rate, and structural factors using an extended Phillips curve model with quarterly data through 1994. By undertaking counterfactual simulations from 1995 to 2001, we quantify the separate contributions of unemployment-rate movements, labor-market reforms (that affected the NAIRU), and productivity developments on inflation. In line with previous work on the United States, we find that productivity advancements were the main structural factor reducing inflation in the United States. For foreign countries, persistent labor-market slack was the main factor exerting downward pressure on inflation. This persistence stemmed, in part, from structural reforms that lowered the NAIRU while the unemployment rate was declining.
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