Orthodox economists know it, heterodox economists know it, and Solow knows it: economics is a failed science. The market economy does not work as economic theory says. This holds — with damaging consequences — in particular for the labor market.
The core of labor market theory, purified from the myriad of idiosyncratic variants, goes as follows. “We economists have all learned, and many of us teach, that the remedy for excess supply in any market is a reduction in price. If this is prevented by combinations in restraint of trade or by government regulations, then those impediments to competition should be removed. Applied to economy-wide unemployment, this doctrine places the blame on trade unions and governments, not on any failure of competitive markets.” (Tobin, 1997, p. 11)
Until this day, the representative economist has not realized that the overall systemic interdependencies establish a positive feedback loop between ‘the’ product and ‘the’ labor market, that is, wage rate down—employment down—wage rate down—and so on. Vice versa with an increasing average wage rate.
Solow’s piece contains at least three errors/mistakes. They relate to employment -, distribution -, and profit theory. Let us here go straight to the heart of the matter. The most elementary version of the axiomatically correct Employment Law reads (Wikimedia AXEC62):
(i) An increase in the expenditure ratio ρE leads to higher employment. An expenditure ratio ρE>1 indicates credit expansion, a ratio ρE<1 indicates credit contraction/debt repayment.
(ii) Increasing investment expenditures I exert a positive influence on employment, a slowdown of growth does the opposite.
(iii) An increase in the factor cost ratio ρF≡W/PR leads to higher employment. This implies that a higher average wage rate W leads to higher employment. This is, of course, contrary to conventional economic wisdom. It is, though, easy to prove that conventional wisdom is a mere Fallacy of Composition (2015). The factor cost ratio is formally inverse to the profit ratio.
(iv) The complete Employment Law is a bit longer and contains in addition profit distribution, public deficit spending, and the trade balance with the rest of the world. As a matter of principle, the structural Employment Law contains only measurable variables and is testable. Hence, matters can be settled once and for all.
Points (i) and (ii) are old Keynesian stuff. Let us focus here alone on the factor cost ratio ρF as defined in (iii). This variable embodies the price mechanism which, however, does not work as the representative economist hallucinates. As a matter of fact, overall employment increases if the average wage rate W increases relative to average price P and average productivity R.
The correct employment theory states that the average wage rate must rise in order to prevent unemployment and deflation. For the relationship between real wage, productivity, profit, and real shares see (2015, Sec. 10)
The ultimate cause of unemployment is the scientific incompetence of the representative economist.
Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2015). Major Defects of the Market Economy. SSRN Working Paper Series, 2624350: 1–40. URL
Tobin, J. (1997). An Overview of the General Theory. In G. C. Harcourt, and P. A. Riach (Eds.), The ’Second Edition’ of The General Theory, Vol. 2, 3–27. Oxon: Routledge.
The representative economist cannot tell the difference between income and profit. Solow is part of the crowd. His piece is defective with regard to profit-, distribution-, and employment theory. As Joan Robinson put it: "Scrap the lot and start again."