IR reform and inequality
It looks as if the IR legislation will be passed through the Parliament while we are all changing the channel to get away from the barrage of ads supporting it, so I suppose I’d better comment now, before taking the time to wade through the 600 pages of simplification the government is giving us. I’m mainly concerned with the likely impact on inequality
Taking the central elements of the legislation separately, it’s possible to make a case in regard to any one of them that the effect on inequality will be modest, or even favourable. It can be pointed out, for example, that many minimum wage earners are in high-income households, so a lower minimum wage won’t be so bad. And making it easier to sack people ought to promote more hiring as well as more firing, which should be good for those who are now unemployed.
These arguments are plausible, but not clear-cut. On the other hand, when we look at the macro evidence, we get very clear evidence pointing the other way. Wherever reforms like this have been introduced, notably the UK and NZ, inequality has increased drastically on almost all dimensions (capital vs labour, variance in wages, wage premiums of all kind, unequal allocation of work). In the US, where these institutions have been entrenched for a long time, inequality is higher than in any other developed country and getting rapidly worse.
It may not be clear which piece of the reform package is doing the work, but the aggregate outcome can be predicted with safety.