Macro and Micro Dynamics of Productivity: From Devilish Details to Insights

National Bureau of Economic Research(2017)

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Researchers use a variety of methods to estimate total factor (TFP) at the firm level and, while these may seem broadly equivalent, how the resulting measures relate to the TFP concept in theoretical models depends on the assumptions about the environment in which firms operate. Interpreting these measures and drawing insights based upon their characteristics thus must take into account these conceptual differences. Absent data on prices and quantities, most methods yield ``revenue productivity measures. We focus on two broad classes of revenue measures in our examination of the relationship between measured and conceptual TFP (TFPQ). The first measure has been increasingly used as a measure of idiosyncratic distortions and to assess the degree of misallocation. The second measure is, under standard assumptions, a function of fundamentals (e.g., TFPQ). Using plant-level U.S. manufacturing data, we find these alternative measures are (i) highly correlated; (ii) exhibit similar dispersion; and (iii) have similar relationships with growth and survival. These findings raise questions about interpreting the first measure as a measure of idiosyncratic distortions. We also explore the sensitivity of estimates of the contribution of reallocation to aggregate growth to these alternative approaches. We use recently developed structural decompositions of aggregate growth that depend critically on estimates of output versus revenue elasticities. We find alternative approaches all yield a significant contribution of reallocation to growth (although the quantitative contribution varies across approaches).
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