Human Capitalists

That is the title of a new and important paper by Andrea L. Eisfeldt, Antonio Falato, and Mindy Z. Xiaolan.  It seems that perhaps the share of labor in gdp has not fallen much after all:

The widespread and growing practice of equity-based compensation has transformed high-skilled labor from a pure labor input into a class of “human capitalists”. We show that high-skilled labor income in the form of equity claims to firms’ future dividends and capital gains has dramatically increased since the 1980s. Indeed, in recent years, equity-based compensation represents almost 45% of total compensation to high-skilled labor. Ignoring such income results in incorrect measurement of the returns to high-skilled labor, with important implications for macroeconomics. Including equity-based compensation to high-skilled labor cuts the total decline in the labor share since the 1980’s by over 60%, and completely reverses the decline in the high skilled labor share to an increase of almost 1%. Correctly measuring the return to high-skilled labor can thus resolve the puzzling lack of a skill premium in recent data, as well as the corresponding lack of evidence of complementarity between high-skilled labor and new-economy physical capital. Moreover, tackling the capital structure question of who owns firms’ profits is necessary to provide a link between changing factor shares and changing income and wealth shares. We use an estimated model to understand the rise of human capitalists in an economy with declining capital goods prices. Finally, we present corroborating cross section and time series evidence for complementarity between high-skilled labor and physical capital using our corrected measure of the total return to human capitalists.

Since smart people are bearing more and more risk, this may be another reason why income inequality is rising.

Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


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