Friday, December 23, 2016

Ventilating Some US Labor Market Controversies

If you're looking for a overview of how a range of economists see many issues in the labor market, written in a manner that will readily accessible to the general public, you should check out The US Labor Market: Questions and Challenges for Public Policy, , edited by Michael Strain, and freely available online from the American Enterprise Institute. In roughly 300 pages, it includes nine big questions, each followed by two essays from different points of view.

For a sample of what's includes, let me give one example of such an exchange, and then I'll append the full tables of contents. Dean Baker and Robert Z. Lawrence address the big question: "Is Productivity the Most Important Determinant of Compensation?"

Dean Baker writes:
"The notion that workers’ pay is linked to their marginal productivity has enormous appeal to economists. Much of the reason is for the simple logic of the proposition. Why would an employer ever pay a worker more than the value of what she produced? And conversely, if a worker were paid less than her marginal product, why wouldn’t she seek out an employer who was willing to pay a wage equal or close to the value of her marginal product? ... However comforting this view of the labor market may be, there are good reasons for believing it does not apply in important ways to those at both the top and bottom of the distribution. Furthermore, even in the sectors of the labor market where the equation of pay and marginal productivity may be largely true, government policies still play a huge role. The idea that the free market is determining incomes simply does not fit the facts."
In contrast, Robert Z. Lawrence writes:
"I have shown that, when the data are presented in an appropriate way, they actually show that with the exception of a growing profit share since 2000, average economy-wide wages in the US have tended to reflect aggregate productivity growth. This has not meant that these wage gains have been equally or proportionately shared. The failure of the wages of some workers to match aggregate productivity growth, however, should not necessarily be interpreted as a failure of the ability of conventional economics to explain these developments. Indeed, many of the explanations of the role played by globalization and technology in generating increased inequality rely on models in which workers are nonetheless paid their marginal products, i.e., in which wages reflect productivity. The same is true of explanations for the more recent increase in profit shares."
Here's the list of nine questions, with the authors and titles of the essays:

I. Should We Be Concerned About the State of Economic Mobility in the US? 

"How Much Social Mobility? More, but Not Without Other Things," by  Miles Corak
"What Should Be Done to Increase Intergenerational Mobility in the US?," by Bhash Mazumder

II. Is Productivity the Most Important Determinant of Compensation? 

"Marginally True: The Connection of Pay to Productivity." by Dean Baker
"Does Productivity Still Determine Worker Compensation? Domestic and International Evidence,"
 by Robert Z. Lawrence

III. How Can We Build Workers’ Skills? 

"Is “Skill” a Topic for Policy?" by Peter Cappelli
"Worker Skills and the US Labor Market: What Role Should Policy Play?" by Harry J. Holzer

IV. How Can We Make Work Pay? 

"Supporting Work, Inclusion, and Mass Prosperity," by Glenn Hubbard
"What Do We Really Know About the Employment Effects of the Minimum Wage?" by Justin Wolfers

V. Do Public Policies That Reduce the Reward to Work Significantly Diminish Labor Supply? 

"The US Safety Net and Work Incentives: Is There a Problem? What Should Be Done?" by Robert A. Moffitt
"The Rise of Employment Taxation," by Casey B. Mulligan

VI. What Are the Economic Effects of Lesser-Skilled Immigration on Lesser-Skilled Native Workers? 

"Low-Skill Immigration," by George J. Borjas
"Less-Skilled Immigration: Economic Effects and Policy Responses," by Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny

VII. Would Cutting the Corporate Tax Rate Significantly Increase Jobs in the US? 

"Would Reducing the US Corporate Tax Rate Increase Employment in the United States?" by  Martin Feldstein
"Business Tax Reform and the Labor Market," Jason Furman and Betsey Stevenson

VIII. What Should We Do About Those Americans Who Are Especially Difficult to Employ? 

"Making Work a Priority for Working-Age People with Disabilities," by Richard V. Burkhauser and Mary C. Daly
"How to Help the Hard-to-Employ: A Focus on Young Men, Especially the Ex-Incarcerated,"  by Timothy M. Smeeding

IX. Should We Be Concerned About Income Inequality? 

"Is the Concept of Inequality the Best Way of Thinking About Our Economic Problems?" by Tyler Cowen
"Should We Be Concerned About Income Inequality in the United States?" by Melissa S. Kearney