A Thought Experiment On Why Wages Are So Weak

Caveat emptor – this analysis is pretty long term. In the short to medium term, I expect central banks like the Fed and ECB to try and follow up their rhetoric with liquidity tightening and for this to be reflected in long-term rates. Only if/when it turns out that the tightening is unsustainable will the forces I discuss above come into play.


On the equity side, if you can replace a skilled worker with a less skilled worker that is an attractive proposition. It is not as exciting as booming demand but it still reaches the bottom line. The social consequences are mixed. It is possible that this reduces the returns to certain types of training and education, both specialized and generic, but overall demand for relatively undifferentiated blue-collar labor will go up as will their wages. Improvements in living standards are likely to come via lower prices than higher wages. This is hardly the American dream. However, it is often difficult to put together policies that efficiently offset technological forces to provide distributional equity, and if other jurisdictions are not so focussed on distribution, you can end up with the worst of both worlds. It is possible that workers will drift to occupations where differentiated skills can earn a higher return – so maybe fewer doctors and lawyers but more dancers with the stars.


If you look at any central bank econometric model, the demand side has decades of development, the supply-side and particularly the modelling of technological change is primitive, distribution is virtually  nonexistent and asset market bubbles a problem because they should not exist in the model world. These secondary issues have become first order issues. Unaddressed they mean incomplete policy regimes and surprising and disappointing outcomes.







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