The Rise of Market Power and the Macroeconomic Implications

Recognition Program

Authors: Jan Eeckhout and Gabriel Unger

Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 135, No 2, 561–644, May, 2020

We document the evolution of market power based on firm-level data for the US economy since 1955. We measure both markups and profitability. In 1980, average markups start to rise from 21% above marginal cost to 61% now. The increase is driven mainly by the upper tail of the markup distribution: the upper percentiles have increased sharply. Quite strikingly, the median is unchanged. In addition to the fattening upper tail of the markup distribution, there is reallocation of market share from low to high markup firms. This rise occurs mostly within industry. We also find an increase in the average profit rate from 1% to 8%. While there is also an increase in overhead costs, the markup increase is in excess of overhead. We then discuss the macroeconomic implications of an increase in average market power, which can account for a number of secular trends in the last four decades, most notably the declining labor and capital shares as well as the decrease in labor market dynamism.

This paper is acknowledged by the Barcelona School of Economics Recognition Program