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Friday, May 20, 2011

"There is Something Very Wrong with This Picture"

I've been meaning to highlight this paper by Levy and Kochan, and still hope to do a bit more with it, but for now here's Dani Rodrik:

There is something very wrong with this picture, by Dani Rodrik: This graph is from a new paper by Frank Levy and Tom Kochan, showing trends in labor productivity and compensation since 1980:

Labor productivity increased by 78 percent between 1980 and 2009, but the median compensation (including fringe benefits) of 35-44 year-old males with high school (and no college) education declined by 10 percent in real terms.
Women have done in general better, but two-thirds of women still have seen their pay lag behind productivity.
Levy and Kochan call for a Social Compact to reverse these trends, and outline some of the steps necessary to get there. The paper is very well worth reading.

Policymakers need to focus on job creation much more than they are, but as this graph shows creating more jobs is only part of the solution to the problems that middle and lower class households have been experiencing. We also need to ensure that income is equitably shared, and the paper outlines the steps needed to move in this direction:

The broken link between productivity and wage growth reflects changes in markets, policies, and their enforcement, institutions, and organizational norms and practices that have been evolving for a long time (circa 1980). Given this history, it is clear that the solutions will also need to be multiple and systemic and sustained for a long time. They also will need to match the features of the contemporary economy. The prior Social Compact was well-suited to a production-based economy in which wage increases in manufacturing set the norm for other parts of the economy.

Today, manufacturing can no longer play this catalytic role. Instead, norms and institutions need to support an innovation-knowledge based economy. We outline below a potential combination of actions suited to this task. If the list seems formidable, recall that we are now facing a situation where the economy has stopped working for something between one-half and two-thirds of all American workers.

Many of us have been calling for a New New Deal. I've done so many times over the last several years and I'm far from alone. Unfortunately, there's very little evidence that this is anywhere near the top of the political agenda. So long as those with wealth and power get theirs (and keep filling campaign coffers), it's hard to see that changing.

    Posted by on Friday, May 20, 2011 at 02:52 PM in Academic Papers, Economics, Income Distribution, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (88)

          


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