Golden Rules for Wages

By Andrew Young and Hernando Zuleta

We consider a decentralized version of the neoclassical growth model where labor share is chosen by workers to maximize their long run (permanent) wages. In this framework, if the labor share increases relative to the competitive share, workers capture a larger share of a smaller total income in the steady-state. This is because the incentives to invest are lower and the steady-state capital to labor ratio is lower. We find that the “Golden Rule” labor share is equal to the elasticity of output with respect to labor. This is precisely what would obtain under the assumption of competitive factor markets. We also consider the model with two classes of workers: organized and unorganized. In this case, organized labor may choose a higher than competitive share and the difference is economically significant for plausible parameter values. Furthermore, relative to the Cobb-Douglas case, organized labor chooses a higher share for the empirically relevant case of an elasticity of substitution less than unity. We also analyze versions of the model with endogenous skill acquisition and capitalists with bargaining power.

This paper is a very nice illustration of who powerful general equilibrium effects can be. While the premise of the model is not very realistic (workers get to decide what share of income goes to them), the model shows nicely how first degree intuition can backfire spectacularly if you forget about the rest of the model.


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