Openness, Wage Floors and Technology Change


This paper argues that the effect of openness to trade on process innovations and skill premia importantly depends on the structure of labor markets in developed countries. Openness to trade with less developed countries is often modelled as a fall in the relative price of unskilled-labor intensive goods. We show within the model of Acemoglu (2003b) that such a fall in the relative price can make wage floors more binding and trigger costly process innovations that increase the productivity of unskilled workers. Empirical evidence using an industry panel for the US and Germany in the 1970s to 1990s supports this hypothesis: (i) embodied technology change seems distorted towards unskilled-labor intensive industries in Germany where wage floors are more important and (ii) embodied technology change in the 1980s is associated with an increase of the share of skilled labor in the wage bill of 15 percentage points in the US whereas the corresponding increase in Germany is much smaller at 3 percentage points.

The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics