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Why U.S. Wage and Employment Behavior Differs from That in Britain and Japan

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  • Robert J. Gordon

Abstract

This paper argues that rigid wages cannot provide the underpinnings of a universally valid theory of the business cycle, simply because wages are not universally rigid. Several different statistical techniques suggest that wage rates in the U.K. and Japan are between three and 15 times more flexible than in the U.S. during the postwar period. Corresponding to greater flexibility in wages, these two countries also exhibit more stable employment behavior over the business cycle. In historical data covering the period between the late-nineteenth-century and 1940, U.S. wage behavior appears to be much more similar to that in Britain and Japan. The contrast between the prewar data and the postwar data, where the U.S. is a definite outlier, suggests that the 1948 invention of the three-year staggered U.S. wage contract may be the crucial factor underlying sluggish U.S. postwar wage dynamics. A theoretical section attempts to distill from recent literature those features of labor market institutions that are regarded as optimal by economic theory. Japanese institutions exhibit more similarity to this theoretical paradigm than those in the U.S. or U.K. Economic theory predicts that long-duration contracts, like those in the postwar U.S., are more likely to emerge when the perceived cost of renegotiation is high, but we must appeal to history and cultural differences to explain why conflict avoidance plays a more prominent role in the development of Japanese labor market institutions than in the American case. In this comparison Britain is the odd-man-out, with well-publicized industrial strife, together with short contract durations. I appeal to history, the different legal tradition, and the nature of the British unions themselves to explain why the three-year contract became established in America but not in Britain.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. Gordon, 1981. "Why U.S. Wage and Employment Behavior Differs from That in Britain and Japan," NBER Working Papers 0809, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0809
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    Cited by:

    1. Johnes, Geraint & Tanaka, Yasuhide, 2008. "Changes in gender wage discrimination in the 1990s: A tale of three very different economies," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 97-113, January.
    2. Kawai, Eizo, 2001. "Re-examination of wage, employment, and hours adjustments: what is crucial for differences in the adjustments?," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 13(4), pages 483-497, December.
    3. Higashi, Youichiro, 2002. "Firm specific human capital and unemployment in a growing economy," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 35-44, January.
    4. Nakabayashi, Masaki, 2011. "Schooling, employer learning, and internal labor market effect: Wage dynamics and human capital investment in the Japanese steel industry, 1930-1960s," MPRA Paper 30597, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Seltzer, Andrew, 2010. "Did firms cut nominal wages in a deflationary environment?: Micro-level evidence from the late 19th and early 20th century banking industry," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 112-125, January.
    6. David Jestaz & Olivier Passet, 1997. "La flexibilité comparée des marchés du travail américain et japonais," Revue de l'OFCE, Programme National Persée, vol. 63(1), pages 143-194.
    7. Julia Darby & Robert A Hart & Michaela Vecchi, 1998. "Labour Force Participation and the Business Cycle: A Comparative Analysis of Europe, Japan and the United States," Working Papers 9802, Business School - Economics, University of Glasgow.
    8. Sanford M. Jacoby, 1995. "Recent Organizational Developments in Japan," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 33(4), pages 645-650, December.
    9. Mulder, C.B., 1987. "Inefficiency of automatically linking unemployment benefits to private sector wage rates," Research Memorandum FEW 288, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    10. Keating, John W. & Nye, John V., 1999. "The Dynamic Effects of Aggregate Demand and Supply Disturbances in the G7 Countries," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 263-278, April.
    11. M. Scattaglia, 1994. "Politiche per l'occupazione e Microfondamenti "Keynesiani" dell'economia del lavoro," Working Papers 196, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    12. Hart, Robert A. & Malley, James R., 2000. "Marginal cost and price over the business cycle: comparative evidence from Japan and the United States," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 547-569, September.
    13. Darby, Julia & Hart, Robert A. & Vecchi, Michela, 2001. "Labour force participation and the business cycle: a comparative analysis of France, Japan, Sweden and the United States," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 113-133, April.
    14. Patrick Artus & Sani Avouyi-Dovi, 1990. "Inflation anticipée, politique monétaire et taux d'intérêt aux Etats-Unis," Revue Économique, Programme National Persée, vol. 41(3), pages 581-598.
    15. Hart, Robert A. & Malley, James R. & Ruffell, Robin J., 1996. "What shapes are overtime premium schedules? Some evidence from Japan, the UK, and the US," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 97-102, October.
    16. Patrick Artus, 1992. "Politique salariale et taux d'intérêt en France dans les années 1980 : peut-on envisager de poursuivre sur la lancée ?," Revue Économique, Programme National Persée, vol. 43(3), pages 459-486.
    17. Taylor, John B, 1983. "Union Wage Settlements during a Disinflation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 981-993, December.
    18. Yamane, Linus, 1998. "The insider-outsider model and Japanese labor unions," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 157-171, April.
    19. Dighe, Ranjit S. & Schmitt, Elizabeth Dunne, 2010. "Did U.S. wages become stickier between the world wars?," The North American Journal of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 165-181, August.
    20. Victor Zarnowitz, 1989. "Cost and Price Movements in Business Cycle Theories and Experience: Hypotheses of Sticky Wages and Prices (SEE ALSO WP3132-send out together)," NBER Working Papers 3131, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    21. Kimura, Takeshi & Ueda, Kazuo, 2001. "Downward Nominal Wage Rigidity in Japan," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 15(1), pages 50-67, March.

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