Secular Stagnation: A Classical-Marxian View

By Manuel David Cruz, Daniele Tavani

PKES Working Paper 2229

December 2022

We study a model of secular stagnation, income and wealth distribution, and employment in the classical-Marxian (CM) tradition, with the purpose of drawing a contrast with established neoclassical accounts of the topic (Piketty, 2014; Gordon, 2015). In these explanations, which assume full employment of labor at all times, an exogenous reduction in the growth rate g increases the difference with the endogenous rate of return to capital r. The capital-income ratio rises and, if the elasticity of substitution is above one, the wage share falls. Our explanation does not presuppose full employment, and features a crucial tension between profit-driven capital accumulation and wage-driven labor-augmenting technical change: both these features are defining for CM economics and have been emphasized in recent heterodox macro literature. Institutional or technological shocks that lower the wage share initially foster capital accumulation —which is profit-driven— and increase wealth inequality. However, the effect on long-run growth is negative, because a reduction in the wage share lessens the incentives by firms to introduce labor-saving innovation, which is wage-driven. The capital-income ratio must rise in order to restore balanced growth and stabilize employment in the long run; and the increase in wealth inequality is permanent. The ultimate effect on long-run employment depends on the relative strength of the response of technical change vs. real wage growth to labor market institutions: we identify a simple condition that delivers either a wage-led or a profitled long-run employment regime. We then test the model using time-series data for the US (1960-2019): impulse responses from VECM estimators lend support to the main predictions of our model, and point to the employment-population ratio being wage-led.

Keywords: Secular Stagnation, Factor Shares, Wealth Inequality, Employment

JEL classification: D31 D33 E11 E24 E25