Not a Typical Firm: Capital–Labor Substitution and Firms’ Labor Shares

Category: Macro Seminar
When: 04 June 2024
, 14:15
 - 15:30
Where: HoF E.01/Deutsche Bank
Speaker: Joachim Hubmer (University of Pennsylvania)

Title: Not a Typical Firm: Capital–Labor Substitution and Firms’ Labor Shares (Joachim Hubmer, Pascual Restrepo)

Abstract: The US labor share has declined, especially in manufacturing and retail. Yet, the labor share of a typical median firm in these sectors has risen. This paper introduces a model where firms incur fixed costs to automate tasks. In response to lower capital prices, the model reproduces the labor share patterns observed in the data: large firms automate more tasks, reducing the aggregate labor share; while the median firm continues to operate a labor-intensive technology with a rising labor share. Using our model, we decompose the labor share decline and the rise in sales concentration in each sector into a part driven by lower capital prices and a part driven by reallocation to higher-markup firms. Lower capital prices played a prominent role in explaining the labor share decline in manufacturing and a smaller role in retail and other sectors from 1982–2012.

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