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Publications on Unit labor costs

There are 3 publications for Unit labor costs.
  • Can Portugal Escape Stagnation without Opting Out from the Eurozone?

    Working Paper No. 664 | March 2011

    The creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has not brought significant gains to the Portuguese economy in terms of real convergence with wealthier eurozone countries. We analyze the causes of the underperformance of the Portuguese economy in the last decade, discuss its growth prospects within the EMU, and make two proposals for urgent institutional reform of the EMU. We argue that, under the prevailing institutional framework, Portugal faces a long period of stagnation, high unemployment, and painful structural reform, and conclude that, in the absence of institutional reform of the EMU, getting out of the eurozone represents a serious political option for Portugal.

    Associated Programs:
    Pedro Leao Alfonso Palacio-Vera

  • Unit Labor Costs in the Eurozone

    Working Paper No. 651 | February 2011
    The Competitiveness Debate Again

    Current discussions about the need to reduce unit labor costs (especially through a significant reduction in nominal wages) in some countries of the eurozone (in particular, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) to exit the crisis may not be a panacea. First, historically, there is no relationship between the growth of unit labor costs and the growth of output. This is a well-established empirical result, known in the literature as Kaldor’s paradox. Second, construction of unit labor costs using aggregate data (standard practice) is potentially misleading. Unit labor costs calculated with aggregate data are not just a weighted average of the firms’ unit labor costs. Third, aggregate unit labor costs reflect the distribution of income between wages and profits. This has implications for aggregate demand that have been neglected. Of the 12 countries studied, the labor share increased in one (Greece), declined in nine, and remained constant in two. We speculate that this is the result of the nontradable sectors gaining share in the overall economy. Also, we construct a measure of competitiveness called unit capital costs as the ratio of the nominal profit rate to capital productivity. This has increased in all 12 countries. We conclude that a large reduction in nominal wages will not solve the problem that some countries of the eurozone face. If this is done, firms should also acknowledge that unit capital costs have increased significantly and thus also share the adjustment cost. Barring solutions such as an exit from the euro, the solution is to allow fiscal policy to play a larger role in the eurozone, and to make efforts to upgrade the export basket to improve competitiveness with more advanced countries. This is a long-term solution that will not be painless, but one that does not require a reduction in nominal wages.

  • A Reassessment of the Use of Unit Labor Costs as a Tool for Competitiveness and Policy Analyses in India

    Working Paper No. 624 | September 2010

    We reinterpret unit labor costs (ULC) as the product of the labor share in value added, times a price adjustment factor. This allows us to discuss the functional distribution of income. We use data from India’s organized manufacturing sector and show that while India’s ULC displays a clear upward trend since 1980 (with a decline since the early 2000s), this is exclusively the result of the increase in the price deflator used to calculate the ULC. The labor share of India’s organized manufacturing sector has been on a downward trend, from 60 percent in 1980 to 26 percent in 2007. This means that the sector’s capital share increased from 40 to 74 percent over the same period. We also find that real wages have increased minimally during the period analyzed—well below labor productivity—while the real profit rate and unit capital costs have increased substantially. We conclude that if India’s organized manufacturing sector has lost any competitiveness, it is the result of the increase in unit capital costs. Our analysis questions policy recommendations that advocate wage moderation, which result from simply looking at the evolution of the ULC, and that blame the loss of competitiveness on high or increasing wages.

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