Collapsed Labor Share Of Economy 1947-2016

Constantin Gurdgiev profile picture
Constantin Gurdgiev
1.04K Followers

The frightening fate of the U.S. labor is best highlighted by the share of labor in economic output. Fred database only provides the data through 2014, and then stops. BLS provides data through 3Q 2016, and then stops. No one bothers to measure the contribution of the largest factor of production to the economy anymore. Here is the BLS data:

The share of labor contribution in total economic output has, basically, collapsed. The slide started with the technological revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, followed by computerization and supply chain management revolutions of the 1980s and 1990s. But the real collapse took place starting with the 2002 post-dot.com bust. Despite the tight labor markets and very low unemployment, labor share never really recovered from this decimation.

If this chart offers a stark cross-reference to the sociopolitical environment we are living in today, such cross-referencing is not ad hoc. Labor is what we, people, have to supply in return for the life's necessities and luxuries. For the majority of us, it is ALL that we can supply. Even our assets, such as homes and pension savings are, ultimately, tied to labor, not to capital, because their performance is linked to our peers' labor-paid demand. A middle-class house is an asset to other middle-class households. It is not an asset to the jet-set shopping for homes in the Hamptons. When that demand collapses, as is currently happening in a number of rapidly ageing economies, real assets we hold turn out to be if not completely worthless, at least severely depressed in value.

So a decline in economic value added share accruing to labor is a transfer of income (and therefore wealth) from those who work for living to those who invest for living (invest in technology and/or financial assets). This game is a zero sum game even after we account for pension funds and household investments: someone loses (labor), someone gains (investors). It is made even worse by higher taxes on labor and by transfers via monetary policy (Quantitative Easing).

The only way to offset such transfers is to vest labor with claims to financial returns. In other words, by providing workers with shares in the financial markets. Simply taxing and shifting income from higher earners to lower earners won't do the trick, because some higher earners are generating their income through labor (and human capital), while others are doing so through inherited and acquired financial assets. Taxing income of the latter implies taxing incomes of the former, which, in turn, depresses returns to investment in human capital (or, ultimately, returns to investment in labor).

Basic income structure of the future will have to achieve exactly that: create broad share ownership of financial instruments linked to financial and technological capital amongst those supplying labor.

This article was written by

Constantin Gurdgiev profile picture
1.04K Followers
I lecture in Finance in Trinity College, Dublin and at Monterey Institute for International Studies (California) and hold a number of non-Executive and advisory positions. I am research-active in macroeconomics and finance, as well as economic policy analysis and my academic record can be found on the designated section of my blog http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/. In the past, I served as the Head of Research and Partner with St Columbanus AG, Head of Macroeconomics (Institute for Business Value, IBM), Director of Research (NCB Stockbrokers), Group Editor and Director (Business and Finance Publications). All opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect the views or positions of any of my past, present or future employers. Potential conflicts of interest are highlighted in the posts wherever I can reasonably foresee such arising.
Follow
To ensure this doesn’t happen in the future, please enable Javascript and cookies in your browser.
Is this happening to you frequently? Please report it on our feedback forum.
If you have an ad-blocker enabled you may be blocked from proceeding. Please disable your ad-blocker and refresh.