Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mark Paul and Mark Stelzner — Rethinking collective action and U.S. labor laws in a monopsonist economy

Discussions today are pervasive among economists and policymakers about the increasing rise of firms’ market power and the potential negative effects of that power on the U.S. economy. Of particular concern is the rise of new technologies and the dominance of platform giants—such as Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, Apple Inc., and Uber Technologies Inc., among others—which are not improving the U.S. socioeconomic landscape by reaping gains from potential economies of scale, but rather are throwing around their weight to suppress wages, raise prices on consumers, and enter the political arena to ensure the federal government allows the U.S. economy to continue on the path of market consolidation.
Many economists point to this disconcerting rise in market power as leading to a simultaneous rise in monopsony power—the ability of the firm to have an influence over the determination of workers’ wages—which may contribute to the persistence of stagnant wages despite relatively low headline unemployment numbers in recent times.
This is in stark contrast to decades of research and modeling in economics following the so-called marginalist revolution in the discipline, which resulted in most economists simply treating monopsony power as a special case only existing in the now long-gone company towns of Homestead, Pennsylvania, and Pullman, Illinois, of the 19th century or in highly concentrated island economies of introductory economics textbooks.4
Recent empirical investigations into U.S. labor markets no longer allow reasonable economists to bury their heads in the sand about market power and assume that workers’ wages are simply equal to the value of their marginal product or service. There’s now insurmountable evidence that monopsony power is prevalent throughout the U.S. economy, though the degree to which it may contribute to widening income inequality and underemployment remains an open question. These findings imply that employers can siphon off “rents”—economic parlance for excessive profits beyond the cost of production—from workers through the exercise of monopsony power. These findings are the complete opposite of the dynamic formulated in most current labor market models.
In our new Washington Center for Equitable Growth working paper, “Monopsony and Collective Action in an Institutional Context,” we seek to better understand the theoretical implications of this new and growing empirical literature on monopsony power and the resulting lower wages for workers
WCEG — The Equitablog
Rethinking collective action and U.S. labor laws in a monopsonist economy
Mark Paul, assistant professor of economics at New College of Florida and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and Mark Stelzner, assistant professor of economics at Connecticut College

See also

Oxfam Blogs — From Poverty to Power
Book Review: New Power: How it’s Changing the 21st Century and Why you need to KnowDuncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB

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