The key question for the economics of international migration is whether observed real wage differentials across countries for workers with identical intrinsic productivity represent an economic inefficiency sustained by legal barriers to labor mobility between geographies. A simple comparison of the real wages of workers with the same level of formal schooling or performing similar occupations across countries shows massive gaps between rich and poorer countries. These gaps persist after adjusting for observed and unobserved human capital characteristics, suggesting a “place premium”—or space-specific wage differentials that are not due to intrinsic worker productivity but rather are due to a misallocation of labor. If wage gaps are not due to intrinsic worker productivity, then the incentive for workers to move to richer countries is high. The idea of a place premium is corroborated by macroeconomic evidence. National accounts data show large cross-country output per worker differences, driven by the divergence of total factor productivity. The lack of convergence in total factor productivity and corresponding spatial productivity differentials create differences in the marginal product of factors, and hence persistent gaps in the wages of equal productivity workers. These differentials can equalize with factor flows; however their persistence and large magnitude in the case of labor, suggest legal barriers to migration restricting labor flows are in fact constraining significant return on human capital, and leaving billions in unrealized gains to the world’s workers and global economy. A relaxation of these barriers would generate worker welfare gains that dwarf gold-standard poverty reduction programs.
Lant Pritchett and Farah Hani
Leandro Prados de la Escosura and Blanca Sánchez-Alonso
In assessments of modern-day Spain’s economic progress and living standards, inadequate natural resources, inefficient institutions, lack of education and entrepreneurship, and foreign dependency are frequently blamed on poor performance up to the mid-20th century, but no persuasive arguments were provided to explain why such adverse circumstances reversed, giving way to the fast transformation that started in the 1950s. Hence, it is necessary to first inquire how much economic progress has been achieved in Spain and what impact it had on living standards and income distribution since the end of the Peninsular War to the present day, and second to provide an interpretation. Research published in the 2010s supports the view that income per person has improved remarkably, driven by increases in labor productivity, which derived, in turn, from a more intense and efficient use of physical and human capital per worker. Exposure to international competition represented a decisive element behind growth performance. From an European perspective, Spain underperformed until 1950. Thereafter, Spain’s economy managed to catch up with more advanced countries until 2007. Although the distribution of the fruits of growth did not follow a linear trend, but a Kuznetsian inverted U pattern, higher levels of income per capita are matched by lower inequality, suggesting that Spaniards’ material wellbeing improved substantially during the modern era.
While the modern theory of international trade allows for many different modeling assumptions, the gains from trade can often be calculated using a common set of statistics. In particular, the share of a country’s output that is consumed domestically, the elasticity of bilateral trade with respect to trade costs, and the relationship between markups and firm size, each have a clear role in the gains from integration. All of these statistics may also be structurally linked to the degree of firm heterogeneity, usually the dispersion in firm-level productivity. Accordingly, the presence of firm heterogeneity may have a meaningful impact on the welfare response to trade liberalization. A quantitative application of a common firm heterogeneity model indicates that increased dispersion of firm-level productivity has a disproportionately large and positive impact on the gains from trade for smaller, less-developed countries.
Fabrizio Mazzonna and Franco Peracchi
Population aging, the combined effect of declining fertility and rising life expectancy, is one of the fundamental trends observed in developed counties and, increasingly, in developing countries as well. A key aspect of the aging process is the decline of cognitive ability. Cognitive aging is an important and complex phenomenon, and its risk factors and economic consequences are still not well understood. For instance, the relationship between cognitive aging and productivity matters for long-term economic growth. Cognitive functioning is also crucial for decision-making because it influences individuals’ ability to process information and to make the right choices, and older individuals are increasingly required to make complex financial, health, and long-term-care decisions that might affect their health, resources, and welfare. This article presents evidence from economics and other fields that have investigated this phenomenon from different perspectives. A common empirical finding is the hump-shaped profile of cognitive performance over the life cycle. Another is the large variability of observed age profiles, not only at the individual level but also across sociodemographic groups and countries. The age profiles of cognitive performance also vary depending on the cognitive task considered, reflecting the different combinations of cognitive skills that they require. The literature usually distinguishes between two main types of cognitive skills: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. The first consists of the basic mechanisms of processing new information, while the second reflects acquired knowledge. Unlike fluid intelligence, which declines rapidly as people get older, crystallized intelligence tends to be maintained at older ages. Differences in the age profiles of cognitive performance across tasks partly reflect differences in the importance of these two types of intelligence. For instance, tasks where learning, problem-solving, and processing speed are essential tend to be associated with a faster decline, while tasks where experience matters more tend to be associated with a slower decline. Various life events and behaviors over the life cycle also contribute to the large heterogeneity in the observed age profiles of cognitive performance. This source of variation includes not only early-life events and investments (e.g., formal education), but also midlife and later-life events (e.g., health shocks) and individual choices (e.g., health behaviors or retirement). From an economic viewpoint, cognitive abilities may be regarded as one dimension of human capital, along with education, health, and noncognitive abilities. Economists have mainly focused their attention on human capital accumulation, and much less so on human capital deterioration. One explanation is that early-life investments appears to be more profitable than investments later in life. However, recent evidence from neuropsychology suggests that the human brain is malleable and open to enhancement even later in adulthood. Therefore, more economic research is needed to study how human capital depreciates over the life cycle and whether cognitive decline can be controlled.
Albert A. Okunade and Ahmad Reshad Osmani
Healthcare cost encompasses expenditures on the totality of scarce resources (implicit and explicit) given up (or allocated) to produce healthcare goods (e.g., drugs and medical devices) and services (e.g., hospital care and physician office services are major components). Healthcare cost accounting components (sources and uses of funds) tend to differ but can be similar enough across most of the world countries. The healthcare cost concept usually differs for consumers, politicians and health policy decision-makers, health insurers, employers, and the government. All else given, inefficient healthcare production implies higher economic cost and lower productivity of the resources deployed in the process. Healthcare productivity varies across health systems of the world countries, the production technologies used, regulatory instruments, and institutional settings. Healthcare production often involves some specific (e.g., drugs and medical devices, information and communication technologies) or general technology for diagnosing, treating, or curing diseases in order to improve or restore human health conditions. In the last half century, the different healthcare systems of the world countries have undergone fundamental transformations in the structural designs, institutional regulations, and socio-economic and demographic dimensions. The nations have allocated a rising share of total economic resources or incomes (i.e., Gross National Product, or GDP) to the healthcare sector and are consequently enjoying substantial increases in population health status and life expectancies. There are complex and interacting linkages among escalating healthcare costs, longer life expectancies, technological progress (or “the march of science”), and sectoral productivities in the health services sectors of the advanced economies. Healthcare policy debates often concentrate on cost-containment strategies and search for improved efficient resource allocation and equitable distribution of the sector’s outputs. Consequently, this contribution is a broad review of the body of literature on technological progress, productivity, and cost: three important dimensions of the evolving modern healthcare systems. It provides a logical integration of three strands of work linking healthcare cost to technology and research evidence on sectoral productivity measurements. Finally, some important aspects of the existing study limitations are noted to motivate new research directions for future investigations to explore in the growing health sector economies.
Menzie D. Chinn
The idea that prices and exchange rates adjust so as to equalize the common-currency price of identical bundles of goods—purchasing power parity (PPP)—is a topic of central importance in international finance. If PPP holds continuously, then nominal exchange rate changes do not influence trade flows. If PPP does not hold in the short run, but does in the long run, then monetary factors can affect the real exchange rate only temporarily. Substantial evidence has accumulated—with the advent of new statistical tests, alternative data sets, and longer spans of data—that purchasing power parity does not typically hold in the short run. One reason why PPP doesn’t hold in the short run might be due to sticky prices, in combination with other factors, such as trade barriers. The evidence is mixed for the longer run. Variations in the real exchange rate in the longer run can also be driven by shocks to demand, arising from changes in government spending, the terms of trade, as well as wealth and debt stocks. At time horizon of decades, trend movements in the real exchange rate—that is, systematically trending deviations in PPP—could be due to the presence of nontraded goods, combined with real factors such as differentials in productivity growth. The well-known positive association between the price level and income levels—also known as the “Penn Effect”—is consistent with this channel. Whether PPP holds then depends on the time period, the time horizon, and the currencies examined.
David E. Bloom, Michael Kuhn, and Klaus Prettner
The strong observable correlation between health and economic growth is crucial for economic development and sustained well-being, but the underlying causality and mechanisms are difficult to conceptualize. Three issues are of central concern. First, assessing and disentangling causality between health and economic growth are empirically challenging. Second, the relation between health and economic growth changes over the process of economic development. In less developed countries, poor health often reduces labor force participation, particularly among women, and deters investments in education such that fertility stays high and the economy remains trapped in a stagnation equilibrium. By contrast, in more developed countries, health investments primarily lead to rising longevity, which may not significantly affect labor force participation and workforce productivity. Third, different dimensions of health (mortality vs. morbidity, children’s and women’s health, and health at older ages) relate to different economic effects. By changing the duration and riskiness of the life course, mortality affects individual investment choices, whereas morbidity relates more directly to work productivity and education. Children’s health affects their education and has long-lasting implications for labor force participation and productivity later in life. Women’s health is associated with substantial intergenerational spillover effects and influences women’s empowerment and fertility decisions. Finally, health at older ages has implications for retirement and care.