Contingent Wage Subsidies

Robertas Zubricka has a clever idea, Contingent Wage Subsidies. Many macroeconomic problems are caused by a coordination failure–you don’t spend because I’m not spending and vice-versa and so the economy becomes trapped in a low-spending, low-employment equilibrium. Zubrickas shows how to solve these coordination problems. The government announces a contingent wage subsidy, a subsidy that is paid only if hiring is low. If a firm hires and others do not they get the subsidy. If a firm hires and others do hire they get the demand. A no-lose proposition. Hence, all firms hire and the subsidy never has to be paid. Instead of a big push, a zero push! Here’s Zubrickas:

New hiring by one firm is a reason for new hiring by other firms because of employment externalities related to additional aggregate demand, new trading opportunities, or production synergies. Without a coordinated action, however, the virtuous hiring cycle may not start, stranding the economy in a low‐employment, low‐spending equilibrium as in the aftermath of the 2007–2009 financial crisis (OECD, 2016). The traditional approach to this problem emphasizes a “big push,” when one large player like the government spends enough to convince others to spend. In this paper, we show how a “zero push” can achieve the same results.

With the economy in a low‐employment equilibrium, we propose a policy that offers firms wage subsidies for new hires payable only if the total number of new hires made in the economy does not exceed a prespecified threshold. An example would be a promise to cover all new labor costs contingent on that less than, say, 100,000 new jobs are created in total. From a firm’s perspective two outcomes can occur from this policy. One outcome is when the number of new jobs is less than the threshold, in which case the firm has its additional labor costs covered while keeping all the additional revenue. The second outcome is when the threshold is met and no subsidies are paid. The firm then benefits from employment spillovers generated by a substantial increase in total employment which makes hiring profitable even without any subsidies. With hiring profitable in both scenarios and, thus, all firms hiring, the threshold for new hires is reached, bringing the economy to high‐employment equilibrium without any subsidies paid.

Attentive readers will note that the idea has the same structure as my dominant assurance contract (which Zubrickas notes was an inspiration).

Read the whole thing.


Comments for this post are closed