IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/2025.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Do Deferred Wages Dominate Involuntary Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device?

Author

Listed:
  • George A. Akerlof
  • Lawrence F. Katz

Abstract

In the most widely analyzed type of efficiency wage model of involuntary unemployment, firms pay wages in excess of market clearing to give workers an incentive not to shirk. Such payments in excess of market clearing and the resultant equilibrium unemployment act as a worker discipline device. This paper concerns what is usually considered the most important theoretical criticism of such models: the so-called bonding argument. The essence of the bonding critique is that contracts whereby workers pay a bond to the firm upon taking a job (or pay an employment fee to gain employment) can eliminate involuntary unemployment. Explicit upfront bonds are only quite rarely observed. A more subtle form of the bonding critique argues that implicit bonding through upward sloping wage profiles and other deferred payment schemes can perfectly substitute for upfront bonds in providing incentives not to shirk and thereby allow the labor market to clear. This paper shows that upward sloping wage profiles do not act as a perfect substitute for explicit bonds in a natural extension of the shirking model in which workers are finite lived, the monitoring of worker behaviors on the job is costly, and firms have reputations for honesty as employers. In the absence of direct upfront bonding, optimal payment schedules will be in excess of market clearing. The reason why upward sloping wage profiles that are market clearing will not generally be the optimal labor contract is simple: delayed payment may provide sufficient incentive to prevent shirking late in the life of the contract, but in the beginning of the contract it does not prevent shirking. And it turns out in a variety of stylized cases, it is cheaper for the firm to pay a wage premium rather than to accept worker shirking early in the contract. The implications of potential worker malfeasance in the absence of explicit bonds for compensation schedules, job assignments, and firm monitoring strategies over the course of a worker's career are also analyzed.

Suggested Citation

  • George A. Akerlof & Lawrence F. Katz, 1986. "Do Deferred Wages Dominate Involuntary Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device?," NBER Working Papers 2025, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2025
    Note: LS
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w2025.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Lazear, Edward P, 1981. "Agency, Earnings Profiles, Productivity, and Hours Restrictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 606-620, September.
    2. Eaton, Curtis & White, William D, 1983. "The Economy of High Wages: An Agency Problem," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 50(198), pages 175-181, May.
    3. Gary S. Becker & George J. Stigler, 1974. "Law Enforcement, Malfeasance, and Compensation of Enforcers," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(1), pages 1-18, January.
    4. Steven G. Allen & Robert L. Clark & Daniel A. Sumner, 1986. "Postretirement Adjustments of Pension Benefits," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 21(1), pages 118-137.
    5. Guillermo A. Calvo, 1985. "The Inefficiency of Unemployment: The Supervision Perspective," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(2), pages 373-387.
    6. Bulow, Jeremy I & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "A Theory of Dual Labor Markets with Application to Industrial Policy,Discrimination, and Keynesian Unemployment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages 376-414, July.
    7. Lawrence F. Katz, 1986. "Efficiency Wage Theories: A Partial Evaluation," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1986, Volume 1, pages 235-290 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1984. "Theories of Wage Rigidity," NBER Working Papers 1442, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. MacLeod, W Bentley & Malcomson, James M, 1989. "Implicit Contracts, Incentive Compatibility, and Involuntary Unemployment," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(2), pages 447-480, March.
    10. Foster, James E & Wan, Henry Y, Jr, 1984. "Involuntary Unemployment as a Principal-Agent Equilibrium," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 476-484, June.
    11. William T. Dickens & Lawrence F. Katz, 1987. "Inter-Industry Wage Differences and Theories of Wage Determination," NBER Working Papers 2271, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Alan B. Krueger & Lawrence H. Summers, 1986. "Reflections on the Inter-Industry Wage Structure," NBER Working Papers 1968, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Hutchens, Robert, 1986. "Delayed Payment Contracts and a Firm's Propensity to Hire Older Workers," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(4), pages 439-457, October.
    14. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-444, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Andrew Weiss & Ruqu Wang, 1990. "A Sorting Model of Labor Contracts: Implications for Layoffs and Wage-Tenure Profiles," NBER Working Papers 3448, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. George A. Akerlof & Lawrence F. Katz, 1989. "Workers' Trust Funds and the Logic of Wage Profiles," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(3), pages 525-536.
    3. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Jagadeesh Gokhale, 1992. "Estimating a Firm's Age-Productivity Profile Using the Present Value of Workers' Earnings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(4), pages 1215-1242.
    4. Zwick, Thomas, 2011. "Seniority wages and establishment characteristics," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 853-861.

    More about this item

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2025. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/nberrus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.