Labour Markets, Poverty, and Development

By Giorgio Barba Navaretti; Riccardo Faini et al. | Go to book overview

less appropriable by parents, and daughters leave their parental homes for marriage. On the other hand, education may allow parents to command higher bride prices. Many of these arguments are not amenable to empirical investigation. Still, the fact that the gender bias in education must be addressed in a collective rather than in an individual framework can hardly be disputed.

The third paper in this group, by Minquan Liu, focuses again on labour supply, in the context of rural communes in China. The design of rural institutions has a very important influence on labour allocation. This result has been well known since the early debates on collective farming. Liu examines the impact of the Chinese collective farm system on efficient labour allocation. He first reconsiders the well-known result that workers shirk while engaged in collective work. He shows that a slightly modified system (where workers are rewarded in terms of quantity of crops harvested, rather than on the basis of the task they perform) could overcome shirking and would pose few monitoring problems. Ibis system would also be able to mobilize additional labour from members for various forms of infrastructural investment, as it happened in the standard Chinese communes. The reformed system is called Baochan, after a type of commune that existed in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward and in the early years of the last rural reform.


Conclusions

Overall, the papers collected in this volume show that labour markets have many complex facets. Policy reform and adjustment must strive to cope with such complexity. Existing wisdom on labour markets can be misleading, as many of the papers show. For instance, widespread employment pessimism is found to be unwarranted: economic growth can deliver both higher employment and, when labour surplus has been all but exhausted, higher wages. However, trade liberalization will not automatically lead to improved labour market conditions, unless supportive policies are also in place. In general, 'getting the prices right' is not a sufficient condition for escaping from low technology or poverty traps. For instance, it was shown that the gender bias in education can often be attributed to the household's rational behaviour and therefore requires explicit policy efforts in order to be overcome. Moreover, it was found that apparently inefficient institutions like collective farming are not necessarily inimical to individual incentives for work.

Taken together, these findings point to the fact that labour market policies, like all policies, must be based on sound theory and rigorous economic analysis. Simple-minded approaches to labour market reforms may not deliver their promises and in some circumstances can even be counter-productive.

-xxiv-

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