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Resurrecting the Role of the Product Market Wedge in Recessions

Staff Report 516 | Published October 7, 2015

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Resurrecting the Role of the Product Market Wedge in Recessions


Employment and hours appear far more cyclical than dictated by the behavior of productivity and consumption. This puzzle has been called “the labor wedge” — a cyclical intratemporal wedge between the marginal product of labor and the marginal rate of substitution of consumption for leisure. The intratemporal wedge can be broken into a product market wedge (price markup) and a labor market wedge (wage markup). Based on the wages of employees, the literature has attributed the intratemporal wedge almost entirely to labor market distortions. Because employee wages may be smoothed versions of the true cyclical price of labor, we instead examine the self-employed and intermediate inputs, respectively. Looking at the past quarter century in the United States, we find that price markup movements are at least as important as wage markup movements — including during the Great Recession and its aftermath. Thus, sticky prices and other forms of countercyclical markups deserve a central place in business cycle research, alongside sticky wages and matching frictions.

Published In: American Economic Review (Vol. 108, No. 4/5, April 2018, pp. 1118-1146)

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