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The Role of Institutions and Policies in Creating High European


  • Thomas I. Palley



The conventional wisdom is that high European unemployment is the result of job markets that are rigid and inflexible. This paper presents new empirical evidence that challenges this received wisdom. A major contribution of the paper is that it fully accounts for both micro- and macroeconomic factors, as well as taking account of cross-country economic spillovers. The evidence shows that macroeconomic factors dominate in explaining unemployment. These factors are robust to changes in empirical specification. Labor market institutions do matter for unemployment, but not in the way conventionally spoken about. Unemployment benefits and union density have no effect. The level of wage bargaining coordination and the extent of union wage coverage both matter, but if properly paired they can actually reduce unemployment. Lower tax burdens can also reduce unemployment, but a far more cost- effective fiscal approach is to increase spending on active labor market policies. The bottom line is that high unemployment in western Europe has been the result of self-inflicted dysfunctional macroeconomic policy. European policymakers adopted a course of disinflation, high real interest rates, and slower growth that raised unemployment. Moreover, they all did so at the same time, thereby generating a wave of trade-based spillovers that generated a continentwide macroeconomic funk and further raised unemployment.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas I. Palley, 2001. "The Role of Institutions and Policies in Creating High European," Macroeconomics 0108007, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:0108007
    Note: Type of Document - Adobe Acrobat PDF; prepared on IBM PC; to print on PostScript; pages: 13; figures: included

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Blanchard, Olivier & Wolfers, Justin, 2000. "The Role of Shocks and Institutions in the Rise of European Unemployment: The Aggregate Evidence," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(462), pages 1-33, March.
    2. Samuel Bentolila & Giuseppe Bertola, 1990. "Firing Costs and Labour Demand: How Bad is Eurosclerosis?," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 57(3), pages 381-402.
    3. Stephen Nickell, 1997. "Unemployment and Labor Market Rigidities: Europe versus North America," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 55-74, Summer.
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    More about this item


    unemployment; macroeconomic shocks; labor market institutions;

    JEL classification:

    • E2 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment
    • J6 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers


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