The Impossibility of a Perfectly Competitive Labor Market
28 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2006
Date Written: February 2006
Using the institutional theory of transaction cost, I demonstrate that the assumptions of the competitive labor market model are internally contradictory and lead to the conclusion that on purely theoretical grounds a perfectly competitive labor market is a logical impossibility. By extension, the familiar diagram of wage determination by supply and demand is also a logical impossibility and the neoclassical labor demand curve is not a well-defined construct. The reason is that the perfectly competitive market model presumes zero transaction cost and with zero transaction cost all labor is hired as independent contractors, implying multi-person firms, the employment relationship, and labor market disappear. With positive transaction cost, on the other hand, employment contracts are incomplete and the labor supply curve to the firm is upward sloping, again causing the labor demand curve to be ill-defined. As a result, theory suggests that wage rates are always and everywhere an amalgam of an administered and bargained price.
JEL Classification: D41, J4, B52
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation