Employment protection reform in European labor markets: the collective bargaining regime matters.

May 30, 2019

By Francesco De Palma and Yann Thommen


Policy advisers repeatedly call on Western European countries to reform their employment protection legislation (EPL) by adopting layoff taxes to finance unemployment insurance (UI). This new design, partly based on the existing “experience-rating” (ER) system in the U.S., would induce firms to internalize layoff fiscal costs and hence reduce unemployment. Its success remains uncertain in economies with a collective wage-setting system, as in many Western European countries. Using a matching model with endogenous job destruction, we provide an ex-ante evaluation of this policy reform’s effects on labor market outcomes in a firm-level bargaining economy and a sector-level bargaining one. Using numerical exercises, we show that compared to a scenario of a simple increase in EPL stringency, the implementation of an ER system results in a decrease in unemployment under both bargaining regimes. Because of the possibility for firms to adjust most terms and conditions of employment (including wage) in decentralized negotiations, juxtaposing the ER system with the existing EPL yields the best labor market performance under a firm-level bargaining regime. The lack of internal flexibility in sector-level bargaining calls for accompanying the implementation of the ER with a relaxation of the existing EPL’s stringency. Lastly, we show that in industries with a turbulent economic environment, accompanying the introduction of ER while reducing the existing EPL’s strictness is recommended.

It seems obvious, like in any insurance problem with moral hazard, experience rating can only improve unemployment insurance. But, as the authors point us, other factors come into play in general equilibrium. It turns out experience rating is still a good idea for Europe while doing the kind of employment policy reform that is usually recommended anyway.


Leverage and Deepening Business Cycle Skewness

May 13, 2019

By Henrik Jensen, Ivan Petrella, Soren Ravn and Emiliano Santoro


We document that the U.S. and other G7 economies have been characterized by an increasingly negative business cycle asymmetry over the last three decades. This finding can be explained by the concurrent increase in the financial leverage of households and firms. To support this view, we devise and estimate a dynamic general equilibrium model with collateralized borrowing and occasionally binding credit constraints. Improved access to credit increases the likelihood that financial constraints become non-binding in the face of expansionary shocks, allowing agents to freely substitute intertemporally. Contractionary shocks, on the other hand, are further amplified by drops in collateral values, since constraints remain binding. As a result, booms become progressively smoother and more prolonged than busts. Finally, in line with recent empirical evidence, financially-driven expansions lead to deeper contractions, as compared with equally-sized non-financial expansions.

The paper makes a lot of sense, yet I am feeling uneasy about it. Can we really conclude that there is a new trend based on a handful of data points (recessions)? Usually, we ask for more data to say something has changed in the economy. Of course, this is a criticism that is not specific to this paper.

Firm and Worker Dynamics in an Aging Labor Market

May 10, 2019

By Niklas Engbom


I develop an idea flows theory of firm and worker dynamics in order to assess the consequences of population aging. Older people are less likely to attempt entrepreneurship and switch employers because they have found better jobs. Consequently, aging reduces entry and worker mobility through a composition effect. In equilibrium, the lower entry rate implies fewer new, better job opportunities for workers, while the better matched labor market dissuades job creation and entry. Aging accounts for a large share of substantial declines in firm and worker dynamics since the 1980s, primarily due to equilibrium forces. Cross-state evidence supports these predictions.

In retrospect, the central idea of the paper makes a lot of sense. Does the aging of the population do any good?

Making Carbon Taxation a Generational Win Win

May 2, 2019

By Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Felix Kubler, Andrey Polbin, Jeffrey D. Sachs and Simon Scheidegger


Carbon taxation has been studied primarily in social planner or infinitely lived agent models, which trade off the welfare of future and current generations. Such frameworks obscure the potential for carbon taxation to produce a generational win-win. This paper develops a large-scale, dynamic 55-period, OLG model to calculate the carbon tax policy delivering the highest uniform welfare gain to all generations. The OLG framework, with its selfish generations, seems far more natural for studying climate damage. Our model features coal, oil, and gas, each extracted subject to increasing costs, a clean energy sector, technical and demographic change, and Nordhaus (2017)’s temperature/damage functions. Our model’s optimal uniform welfare increasing (UWI) carbon tax starts at $30 tax, rises annually at 1.5 percent and raises the welfare of all current and future generations by 0.73 percent on a consumption-equivalent basis. Sharing efficiency gains evenly requires, however, taxing future generations by as much as 8.1 percent and subsidizing early generations by as much as 1.2 percent of lifetime consumption. Without such redistribution (the Nordhaus “optimum”), the carbon tax constitutes a win-lose policy with current generations experiencing an up to 0.84 percent welfare loss and future generations experiencing an up to 7.54 percent welfare gain. With a six-times larger damage function, the optimal UWI initial carbon tax is $70, again rising annually at 1.5 percent. This policy raises all generations’ welfare by almost 5 percent. However, doing so requires levying taxes on and giving transfers to future and current generations ranging up to 50.1 percent and 10.3 percent of their lifetime consumption. Delaying carbon policy, for 20 years, reduces efficiency gains roughly in half.

As has been amply documented in the news during the last months, concern about climate change is to a large extend a generational issue. To win over the older generation, the deal needs to be sweetened for them. This paper shows how. An important step, though, it to get them to understand carbon pricing, which may be an even bigger challenge.