Unit labour costs, productivity and international competitiveness
This paper provides international comparisons of relative levels of unit labour costs (ULC) for several OECD countries relative to the United States. The estimates are based on the Total Economy Database and the 60-Industry Database of the Groningen Growth and Development Centre (GGDC), and are also included in the Key Indicators of the Labour Market of the International Labour Office (ILO). The paper discusses the concept of relative ULC measures in comparison to other measures of competitiveness. It presents the main results for manufacturing and total economy measures of ULC, and makes two digressions, firstly by also presenting results for some major manufacturing sectors for a few large European countries and the U.S. and, secondly, by showing some comparable results for developing countries. An important observation from this paper is that relative productivity levels tend to move more or less in tandem with relative labour cost levels so that unit labour cost levels are closer between countries than labour cost levels per se. However, unit labour cost levels are certainly not identical between countries, as there are important deviations due to short term movements in relative prices (related to fluctuation in the nominal exchange rate) and differences in industrial structure. Whereas some of the differences cancel out at the aggregate level, differences in industry and product composition are quite important at a more detailed level.
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- Robert Summers & Alan Heston, 1991. "The Penn World Table (Mark 5): An Expanded Set of International Comparisons, 1950–1988," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 327-368.