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Missing Market in Labor Quality: The Role of Quality Markets in Transition


  • Gary H. Jefferson


This paper characterizes a key feature of the classic socialist economy and state-owned enterprise, namely that of missing markets in labor quality. Under the socialist regime in which students and workers were assigned to work units, the rights of managers to monitor and reward workers were limited. The exchange of labor services was based more on measures of quantity rather than quality. Workers who performed functions broadly consistent with that of their assigned occupations for the duration of the designated workweek received the standard wage. With the reassignment of property rights, this situation has changed. Students and workers have resumed control over the accumulation of their human capital the trade of skill and effort. Managers have acquired greater authority to monitor labor - to discriminate in setting wages and bonuses and to hire and fire - as well as stronger incentives to use this authority to raise efficiency and profits. The result is an emerging market in labor quality.A 1995 cross section of enterprise data spanning 10 ownership types is used to test the hypothesis of an emerging labor quality market. The results show that certain non-state forms of ownership, in which the rights of managers to monitor and reward skill and effort are presumed to be relatively well developed, encourage labor quality, most notably training, which raises productivity. The relative inability of state enterprises to monitor and reward high quality labor is likely to create an adverse selection problem in which the most skilled and motivated workers exit from the state sector, so as to cause a "hollowing" of skilled workers and weakened enterprise performance. The theoretical contribution of this paper is to generalize Coase's analysis of the critical role of property rights in creating resource markets to the creation and exchange of quality in all goods. Analytically, the conditions for a missing market in labor quality are equivalent to those for a missing market in pollution abatement and water quality. The analysis underscores the importance of property rights in creating the conditions for the accumulation and efficient exchange of human capital.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary H. Jefferson, 1999. "Missing Market in Labor Quality: The Role of Quality Markets in Transition," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 260, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
  • Handle: RePEc:wdi:papers:1999-260

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. R. H. Coase, 2013. "The Problem of Social Cost," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56(4), pages 837-877.
    2. Alchian, Armen A & Demsetz, Harold, 1972. "Production , Information Costs, and Economic Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(5), pages 777-795, December.
    3. Jensen, Michael C. & Meckling, William H., 1976. "Theory of the firm: Managerial behavior, agency costs and ownership structure," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 305-360, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Krishna, Kala & Yavas, Cemile, 2005. "When trade hurts: Consumption indivisibilities and labor market distortions," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 413-427, December.
    2. Jed Friedman, 2004. "Firm Ownership and Internal Labor Practices in a Transition Economy: An Exploration of Worker Skill Acquisition in Vietnam," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 2004-696, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.

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    transition; markets in labor quality; adverse selection; Chinese enterprise reform;

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