Productive Matches between Workers and Firms

This brings many benefits to the economy as a whole, the most important being that it helps ensure good and productive matches between workers and firms. It also has some less attractive implications, particularly for workers. Job security is very limited, and workers might find themselves out of a job with very little warning. In Europe, labor markets tend to be more rigid. We have explored some of the ways in which this is true. Minimum wages are often higher, unemployment insurance is more generous, and the costs of hiring and firing workers are greater. As a consequence, European countries are typically characterized by higher unemployment than the United States. In addition, unemployment duration tends to be longer: workers who become unemployed tend to take longer to find a new job. This makes the labor market a more difficult place for workers who do not have jobs but a better place for those who do have jobs because they typically enjoy higher salaries and greater security. We have analyzed the differences between these two parts of the world, but we have not explained why these different economies have settled on such different configurations of labor laws. The explanation is not simple and goes well beyond economics into questions of history, politics, and sociology. Still, there is probably some truth in the simplest explanation: voters have different preferences about how their working lives should look. Perhaps voters in Europe prefer a world of greater job security for the employed, even if it comes at the cost of unemployment problems and a less-efficient economy. Perhaps voters in the United States prefer a dynamic economy, even if it comes at the cost of more uncertainty for working people.

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