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The Global Decline of the Labor Share

  • Loukas Karabarbounis
  • Brent Neiman

The stability of the labor share of income is a key foundation in macroeconomic models. We document, however, that the global labor share has significantly declined since the early 1980s, with the decline occurring within the large majority of countries and industries. We show that the decrease in the relative price of investment goods, often attributed to advances in information technology and the computer age, induced firms to shift away from labor and toward capital. The lower price of investment goods explains roughly half of the observed decline in the labor share, even when we allow for other mechanisms influencing factor shares such as increasing profits, capital-augmenting technology growth, and the changing skill composition of the labor force. We highlight the implications of this explanation for welfare and macroeconomic dynamics.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19136.

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Date of creation: Jun 2013
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Publication status: published as Brent Neiman, 2013. "The Global Decline of the Labor Share," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(1), pages 61-103.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19136
Note: EFG IFM ME
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  1. Duffy, John & Papageorgiou, Chris, 2000. " A Cross-Country Empirical Investigation of the Aggregate Production Function Specification," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 5(1), pages 87-120, March.
  2. John Fernald & Brent Neiman, 2006. "Measuring the Miracle: Market Imperfections and Asia's Growth Experience," 2006 Meeting Papers 785, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  3. Douglas Gollin, 2002. "Getting Income Shares Right," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(2), pages 458-474, April.
  4. León-Ledesma, Miguel A. & McAdam, Peter & Willman, Alpo, 2009. "Identifying the elasticity of substitution with biased technical change," Working Paper Series 1001, European Central Bank.
  5. Basu, Susanto & Fernald, John G., 2002. "Aggregate productivity and aggregate technology," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(6), pages 963-991, June.
  6. Robert J. Barro, 2012. "Inflation and Economic Growth," CEMA Working Papers 568, China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics.
  7. Chang-Tai Hsieh & Peter J. Klenow, 2003. "Relative prices and relative prosperity," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
  8. Olivier Blanchard & Francesco Giavazzi, 2003. "Macroeconomic Effects Of Regulation And Deregulation In Goods And Labor Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(3), pages 879-907, August.
  9. Francisco Rodriguez & Arjun Jayadev, 2010. "The Declining Labor Share of Income," Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) HDRP-2010-36, Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
  10. Ríos-Rull, José-Víctor & Santaeulàlia-Llopis, Raül, 2010. "Redistributive shocks and productivity shocks," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(8), pages 931-948, November.
  11. Loukas Karabarbounis & Brent Neiman, 2012. "Declining Labor Shares and the Global Rise of Corporate Saving," NBER Working Papers 18154, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Restuccia, Diego & Urrutia, Carlos, 2001. "Relative prices and investment rates," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 93-121, February.
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