Williamson_3e_IM_16 - Chapter 16 Unemployment: Search and...

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Chapter 16 Unemployment: Search and Efficiency Wages ± Teaching Goals Thus far in the text, the only formal explanation for the phenomenon of unemployment has been in the context of the Keynesian sticky price model. If there is nominal wage rigidity, the real wage may become stuck at a level that implies an excess supply of labor. This chapter supplies two models of unemployment that are more firmly grounded in microeconomic principles. The first model of unemployment is the search model. In this framework, unemployment is a socially useful phenomenon that may improve the quality of matches between workers and firms. When studying the model, it is important to remind students that factors that raise the equilibrium unemployment rate may not be bad, and factors that reduce the equilibrium unemployment may not be good. The focus of the search model is primarily microeconomic in nature. The search model explains what incentives work as households change their behavior in the face of new policies. The microfoundations are very powerful here, as they allow us to experiment at no cost with various policy schemes, yet they give us results of macroeconomic importance: how do taxes or unemployment insurance alter the unemployment rate? The second model of unemployment is the efficiency wage model. This model provides an explanation of unemployment that is hard to empirically distinguish from the Keynesian sticky wage model. In both models, unemployed workers stand willing to accept employment at the prevailing wage rate, and yet cannot find work. However, in the sticky wage model it is plausible to imagine a scenario in which an unemployed worker can successfully agree to work at a wage lower than the prevailing wage. In the efficiency wage model, it is never in the interest of a firm to hire such a “bargain” worker, because the worker cannot commit to put in enough effort to make his employment worthwhile to the firm. The main advantage of this model is that it reconciles such “involuntary” unemployment with optimizing behavior. However, the model is less successful as a part of a consistent explanation of business cycles. The model cannot easily explain the fact that the real wage rate is procyclical. ± Classroom Discussion Topics By now, students should be comfortable with the idea that perfectly competitive markets generate efficient outcomes, as long as there are no externalities. In what sense does the structure of the job search model approximate perfect competition? Are there any possible sources of externalities? Is there some sense in which there may be elements of monopolistic competition? If the job search model is anything like a competitive market, do we have any reason to think that the unemployment rate might be too high or too low relative to a Pareto optimum? If an undistorted market provides the right amount of unemployment, then unemployment insurance leads to an inefficiently high rate of unemployment. Does this line of reasoning make a good case for eliminating unemployment insurance? Where does the desire to avoid risks come in? And moral hazard?
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Williamson_3e_IM_16 - Chapter 16 Unemployment: Search and...

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