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Rethinking wage vs. profit-led growth theory with implications for policy analysis

By Thomas Palley

The distinction between wage-led and profit-led growth is a major feature of Post-Keynesian economics and it has triggered an extensive econometric literature aimed at identifying whether economies are wage or profit-led. That literature treats the economy’s character as exogenously given. This paper questions that assumption and shows an economy’s character is endogenous and subject to policy influence. This generates a Post-Keynesian analogue of the Lucas critique whereby the econometrically identified character of the economy depends on policy rather than being a natural characteristic. Over the past twenty years, policy has made economies appear more profit-led by lowering workers’ share of the wage bill and tax rates on shareholder income. Increasing workers’ wage bill share increases growth and capacity utilization regardless of whether the economy is wage-led, profit-led or conflictive. That speaks to making it the primary focus of policy efforts.

Read rest here.

PS: Tom's paper is in the standard Kaleckian approach in which investment is a function of capacity utilization and some measure of profit (rate or share; both are related). The so-called Kaleckian model suggests that investment is to some extent autonomous (independent of income) and not simply derived demand. With Esteban Pérez we have criticized the Kaleckian (not Kalecki, which did not develop these family of models, which are in effect a result of Joan Robinson's model) here. In our view, the distinction between profit and wage-led in a model with an independent investment function is problematic. In a sense, although we have a different (Kaldorian, based on the supermultiplier) modelling strategy, we agree with Tom's conclusion, namely: the system only appears to be profit-led, since "increasing workers’ wage bill share increases growth and capacity utilization." That's unambiguous, and should be a policy goal.


  1. Nice entry. First time someone shows me a coherent explanation on why data suggests profit-led growth even this being theoretically improbable. So it's a matter of history rather than theory, right?

    1. Oi Pedro. Looks profit-led, because the economy grows with higher profits. However, what determines investment is still demand growth (accelerator). What allows for growth is not higher wages, but higher indebtedness, which leads to growth and profits. So the economy is wage-led formally, in the sense that investment does NOT depend on profits.


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