Aggregate Demand, Idle Time, and Unemployment

Pascal Michaillat, Emmanuel Saez

NBER Working Paper No. 18826
Issued in February 2013
NBER Program(s):   EFG   ME

This paper develops a model of unemployment fluctuations. The model keeps the architecture of the general-disequilibrium model of Barro and Grossman (1971) but takes a matching approach to the labor and product markets instead of a disequilibrium approach. On the product and labor markets, both price and tightness adjust to equalize supply and demand. Since there are two equilibrium variables but only one equilibrium condition on each market, a price mechanism is needed to select an equilibrium. We focus on two polar mechanisms: fixed prices and competitive prices. When prices are fixed, aggregate demand affects unemployment: with a higher aggregate demand, firms find more customers; this reduces the idle time of their employees and thus increases their labor demand; and this reduces unemployment. We combine the predictions of the model and empirical measures of product market tightness, labor market tightness, output, and employment to assess the sources of labor market fluctuations in the US. First, we find that the product market and labor market tightnesses fluctuate a lot, which implies that the fixed-price equilibrium describes the data better than the competitive-price equilibrium. Next, we find that labor market tightness and employment are positively correlated, which suggests that labor market fluctuations are mostly due to labor demand shocks and not to labor supply or mismatch shocks. Last, we find that product market tightness and output are positively correlated, which suggests that the labor demand shocks mostly reflect aggregate demand shocks and not technology shocks.

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This paper was revised on January 27, 2015

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18826

Published: Pascal Michaillat & Emmanuel Saez, 2015. "Aggregate Demand, Idle Time, and Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 130(2), pages 507-569. citation courtesy of

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