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Unit Labor Costs in the Eurozone: The Competitiveness Debate Again

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  • Jesus Felipe
  • Utsav Kumar

Abstract

Current discussions about the need to reduce unit labor costs (especially through a significant reduction in nominal wages) in some countries of the eurozone (in particular, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) to exit the crisis may not be a panacea. First, historically, there is no relationship between the growth of unit labor costs and the growth of output. This is a well-established empirical result, known in the literature as Kaldor's paradox. Second, construction of unit labor costs using aggregate data (standard practice) is potentially misleading. Unit labor costs calculated with aggregate data are not just a weighted average of the firms' unit labor costs. Third, aggregate unit labor costs reflect the distribution of income between wages and profits. This has implications for aggregate demand that have been neglected. Of the 12 countries studied, the labor share increased in one (Greece), declined in nine, and remained constant in two. We speculate that this is the result of the nontradable sectors gaining share in the overall economy. Also, we construct a measure of competitiveness called unit capital costs as the ratio of the nominal profit rate to capital productivity. This has increased in all 12 countries. We conclude that a large reduction in nominal wages will not solve the problem that some countries of the eurozone face. If this is done, firms should also acknowledge that unit capital costs have increased significantly and thus also share the adjustment cost. Barring solutions such as an exit from the euro, the solution is to allow fiscal policy to play a larger role in the eurozone, and to make efforts to upgrade the export basket to improve competitiveness with more advanced countries. This is a long-term solution that will not be painless, but one that does not require a reduction in nominal wages.

Suggested Citation

  • Jesus Felipe & Utsav Kumar, 2011. "Unit Labor Costs in the Eurozone: The Competitiveness Debate Again," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_651, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_651
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    Cited by:

    1. Angelini, E. & Dieppe, A. & Pierluigi, B., 2015. "Modelling internal devaluation experiences in Europe: Rational or learning agents?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 81-92.
    2. Alberto Alonso & Vanesa Guzmán, 2014. "Monetary Union Viability: A Criterion Proposal," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 65(4), pages 717-750, November.
    3. Vincent Duwicquet & Jacques Mazier & Jamel Saadaoui, 2013. "Désajustements de change, fédéralisme budgétaire et redistribution. Comment s'ajuster en union monétaire," Revue de l'OFCE, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 0(1), pages 57-96.
    4. Ines Kersan-Škabić, 2016. "Is Internal Devaluation Policy In The Eu Effective?," Economic Annals, Faculty of Economics, University of Belgrade, vol. 61(211), pages 29-46, October -.
    5. Lukmanova, Elizaveta & Tondl, Gabriele, 2017. "Macroeconomic imbalances and business cycle synchronization. Why common economic governance is imperative for the Eurozone," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 130-144.
    6. Jorge Uxó & Jesús Paúl & Eladio Febrero, 2011. "Current Account Imbalances in the Monetary Union and the Great Recession: Causes and Policies," Panoeconomicus, Savez ekonomista Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia, vol. 58(5), pages 571-592, December.
    7. Burak Saltoðlu & Devrim Yýlmaz, 2013. "Why is it so Difficult and Complex to Solve the Euro Problem?," Working Papers 2013/02, Bogazici University, Department of Economics.
    8. Crespo, Aranzazu; Segura-Cayuela, Ruben, 2014. "Understanding Competitiveness," Economics Working Papers MWP2014/20, European University Institute.
    9. Servaas Storm & C.W.M. Naastepad, 2015. "NAIRU economics and the Eurozone crisis," International Review of Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(6), pages 843-877, November.
    10. Karsten Staehr & Robert Vermeulen, 2016. "How competitiveness shocks affect macroeconomic performance across euro area countries," DNB Working Papers 515, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
    11. repec:zag:zirebs:v:20:y:2017:i:2:p:33-48 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. repec:clr:wugarc:y:2013:v:39i:3p:291 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Elizaveta Lukmanova & Gabriele Tondl, 2016. "Macroeconomic Imbalances and Business Cycle Synchronization. Why Common Economic Governance is Imperative for the Eurozone," Department of Economics Working Papers wuwp229, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Department of Economics.
    14. Enno Schröder, 2015. "Eurozone Imbalances: Measuring the Contribution of Expenditure Switching and Expenditure Volumes 1990-2013," Working Papers 1508, New School for Social Research, Department of Economics, revised Sep 2015.
    15. Gianluigi Nocella, 2015. "Competitività e distribuzione funzionale nell'Eurozona," a/ Working Papers Series 1504, Italian Association for the Study of Economic Asymmetries, Rome (Italy).
    16. Saadaoui, Jamel, 2012. "Déséquilibres globaux, taux de change d’équilibre et modélisation stock-flux cohérente
      [Global Imbalances, Equilibrium Exchange Rates and Stock-Flow Consistent Modelling]
      ," MPRA Paper 51332, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Lukmanova, Elizaveta & Tondl, Gabriele, 2016. "Macroeconomic Imbalances and Business Cycle Synchronization. Why Common Economic Governance is Imperative for the Eurozone," Department of Economics Working Paper Series 5087, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
    18. repec:erc:cypepr:v:11:y:2017:i:2:p:19-62 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Karl Aiginger & Matthias Firgo & Peter Huber, 2013. "Strategies of Success for the European Periphery. Insights from Regional Economics for Southern Europe," WIFO Monatsberichte (monthly reports), WIFO, vol. 86(6), pages 509-521, June.
    20. Gaetano Perone, 2017. "Produttività del lavoro, dinamica salariale e squilibri commerciali nei Paesi dell’Eurozona: un’analisi empirica," Working Papers 0028, ASTRIL - Associazione Studi e Ricerche Interdisciplinari sul Lavoro.
    21. Thorsten Schulten & Torsten Müller, 2013. "Ein neuer europäischer Interventionismus? Die Auswirkungen des neuen Systems der europäischen Economic Governance auf Löhne und Tarifpolitik," Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft - WuG, Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte für Wien, Abteilung Wirtschaftswissenschaft und Statistik, vol. 39(3), pages 291-321.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Competitiveness; Eurozone; Income Distribution; Unit Labor Costs;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D33 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Factor Income Distribution
    • E25 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Aggregate Factor Income Distribution
    • J30 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - General

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