Can persistent wage stickiness be the problem?

Stephen Williamson writes:

What about wage stickiness? That’s certainly important in the Keynesian narrative, though New Keynesians tend to think more about sticky prices. Suppose, for the sake of argument that a particular worker’s wage had been stuck at its pre-financial crisis nominal level until now. How much would that worker’s wage have declined in real terms by mid-2013? The answer depends on when the worker’s wage became stuck. If it was in January 2007, the decline would be 12% (using pce inflation); if in December 2007, 9%; and if when Lehman went down, 6%. That’s large in any case, and that’s with zero adjustment over 5 or 6 years. You think wage stickiness matters over that length of time, or that wage stickiness somehow explains the drop in employment we saw in the construction sector? I don’t think so.

Don’t forget that nominal gdp is now well above its pre-crash peak (some sticky wage theorists are morphing into “the stickiness is that almost everyone has to get a two percent raise each year,” a very different proposition than downward stickiness at the zero point and one with much less evidence behind it).

There are several other interesting observations in the piece.  I don’t completely agree with this set of points (for one thing I don’t view TFP and investment as so readily separable), but they are nonetheless worth a ponder:

Probably the most important feature of the data in the two charts is the difference in the behavior of investment. In 1981-82, investment declines by about 12% from the first observation, then rebounds significantly, to the extent that it grew more than consumption and output by mid-1983. In the last recession, investment declined by more than 30% from the beginning of 2007 to mid-2009, and in second quarter 2013 was still about 5% lower than in first quarter 2007. Thus, if there is something we should be focusing on, it’s not multipliers and consumption, but why investment is so low. That low level of investment, over a five year period, has now had a significant cumulative effect on the capital stock. Thus, we’ve got OK growth in TFP, but growth in factor inputs is low. That’s the key story, from a growth accounting point of view.

You should not, by the way, think I have changed my mind on monetary policy.  The “nominalist” approach was absolutely correct for 2008-2009, it is simply becoming less correct as time passes, which is exactly what standard economic theory suggests.


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