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Identifying inflation's grease and sand effects in the labor market

  • Erica L. Groshen
  • Mark E. Schweitzer

Inflation has been accused of causing distortionary prices and wage fluctuations (sand) as well as lauded for facilitating adjustments to shocks when wages are rigid downwards (grease). This paper investigates whether these two effects can be distinguished from each other in a labor market by the following identification strategy: inflation-induced deviations among employer's mean wage-changes represent unintended intramarket distortions (sand), while inflation-induced, inter-occupational wage-changes reflect intended alignments with intermarket forces (grease). ; Using a unique 40-year panel of wage changes made by large mid-western employers, we find a wide variety of evidence to support the identification strategy. We also find some indications that occupational wages in large firms gained flexibility in the past four years. These results strongly support other findings that grease and sand effects exist, but also suggest that they offset each other in a welfare sense and in unemployment effects. Thus, at levels up to five percent, the net impact of inflation is beneficial but statistically indistinguishable from zero. It turns detrimental after that. When positive, net benefits never exceed a tenth of gross benefits.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of New York in its series Staff Reports with number 31.

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Date of creation: 1997
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:31
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  1. Allan Drazen & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1986. "Inflation and Wage Dispersion," NBER Working Papers 1811, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Erica L. Groshen & Mark E. Schweitzer, 1996. "The effects of inflation on wage adjustments in firm-level data: grease or sand?," Staff Reports 9, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  3. Killingsworth, Mark R. & Heckman, James J., 1987. "Female labor supply: A survey," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & R. Layard (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 2, pages 103-204 Elsevier.
  4. Sheshinski, Eytan & Weiss, Yoram, 1977. "Inflation and Costs of Price Adjustment," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(2), pages 287-303, June.
  5. George A. Akerlof & William R. Dickens & George L. Perry, 1996. "The Macroeconomics of Low Inflation," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 27(1), pages 1-76.
  6. Erica Groshen & David Levine, 1998. "The rise and decline(?) of U.S. internal labor markets," Research Paper 9819, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  7. Lach, Saul & Tsiddon, Daniel, 1992. "The Behavior of Prices and Inflation: An Empirical Analysis of Disaggregated Price Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(2), pages 349-89, April.
  8. Bryan, Michael F & Gavin, William T, 1986. "Models of Inflation Expectations Formation: A Comparison of Household and Economist Forecasts: A Comment," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 18(4), pages 539-44, November.
  9. Tobin, James, 1972. "Inflation and Unemployment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(1), pages 1-18, March.
  10. 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.
  11. Blinder, Alan S & Choi, Don H, 1990. "A Shred of Evidence on Theories of Wage Stickiness," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(4), pages 1003-15, November.
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  13. Javier Andres & Ignacio Hernando, 1997. "Does Inflation Harm Economic Growth? Evidence for the OECD," NBER Working Papers 6062, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. David E. Lebow & David J. Stockton & William L. Wascher, 1995. "Inflation, nominal wage rigidity, and the efficiency of labor markets," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 95-45, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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  16. McLaughlin, Kenneth J., 1994. "Rigid wages?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 383-414, December.
  17. Vining, Daniel R, Jr & Elwertowski, Thomas C, 1976. "The Relationship between Relative Prices and the General Price Level," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(4), pages 699-708, September.
  18. Levine, David I, 1993. "Fairness, Markets, and Ability to Pay: Evidence from Compensation Executives," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1241-59, December.
  19. Friedman, Milton, 1977. "Nobel Lecture: Inflation and Unemployment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 451-72, June.
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  22. Erica Groshen, 1996. "American employer salary surveys and labor economics research: issues and contributions," Research Paper 9604, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
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