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Dictionary beginning with L


One of the FACTORS OF PRODUCTION, with LAND, CAPITAL and ENTERPRISE. Among the things that determine the supply of labour are the number of able people in the POPULATION, their willingness to work, labour laws and regulations, and the health of the economy and FIRMS. DEMAND for labour is also affected by the health of the economy and firms, labour laws and regulations, as well as the PRICE and supply of other factors of production.

In a perfect market, WAGES (the price of labour) would be determined by SUPPLY and demand. But the labour market is often far from perfect. Wages can be less flexible than other prices; in particular, they rarely fall even when demand for labour declines or supply increases. This wage rigidity can be a cause of UNEMPLOYMENT.

Labour intensive

A production process that involves comparatively large amounts of LABOUR; the opposite of CAPITAL INTENSIVE.

Labour market flexibility

A flexible LABOUR market is one in which it is easy and inexpensive for FIRMS to vary the amount of labour they use, including by changing the hours worked by each employee and by changing the number of employees. This often means minimal REGULATION of the terms of employment (no MINIMUM WAGE, say) and weak (or no) trade UNIONS. Such flexibility is characterised by its opponents as giving firms all the power, allowing them to fire employees at a moment's notice and leaving workers feeling insecure.

Opponents of labour market flexibility claim that labour laws that make workers feel more secure encourage employees to invest in acquiring skills that enable them to do their current job better but that could not be taken with them to another firm if they were let go. Supporters claim that it improves economic EFFICIENCY by leaving it to MARKET FORCES to decide the terms of employment. Broadly speaking, the evidence is that greater flexibility is associated with lower rates of UNEMPLOYMENT and higher GDP per head.

Labour theory of value

The notion that the value of any good or service depends on how much LABOUR it uses up. First suggested by ADAM SMITH, it took a central place in the philosophy of KARL MARX. Some neo-classical economists disagreed with this theory, arguing that the PRICE of something was independent of how much labour went into producing it and was instead determined solely by SUPPLY and DEMAND.

Laffer curve

Legend has it that in November 1974 Arthur Laffer, a young economist, drew a curve on a napkin in a Washington bar, linking AVERAGE tax rates to total tax revenue. Initially, higher tax rates would increase revenue, but at some point further increases in tax rates would cause revenue to fall, for instance by discouraging people from working. The curve became an icon of supply-side ECONOMICS. Some economists said that it proved that most governments could raise more revenue by cutting tax rates, an argument that was often cited in the 1980s by the tax-cutting governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Other economists reckoned that most countries were still at a point on the curve at which raising tax rates would increase revenue. The lack of empirical evidence meant that nobody could really be sure where the United States and other countries were on the Laffer curve. However, after the Reagan administration cut tax rates revenue fell at first. American tax rates were already low compared with some countries, especially in continental Europe, and it remains possible that these countries are at a point on the Laffer curve where cutting tax rates would pay.

Lagging indicators

Old news. Some economic statistics move weeks or months after changes in the BUSINESS CYCLE or INFLATION. They may not be a reliable guide to the current state of an economy or its future path. Contrast with LEADING INDICATORS.