First of all, why should we care about price stickiness? Chiefly because sluggish price adjustment (price stickiness) provides a mechanism through which monetary policy can affect the real economy.
The following theories of prices stickiness emerged from the results of Blinder's survey as winners: coordination failure, non-price competition, implicit contracts and cost-based pricing (it is worth noting that all of the theories that did well in the survey have a distinctly Keynesian flavor):
- Coordination Failure: Firms hold back on price changes waiting for other firms to go first.
- Cost-Based Pricing: Price rises are delayed until costs rise, and these delays accumulate through multi-stage production process.
- Non-Price Competition: Firms vary non-price elements such as delivery lags, service, or quality.
- Implicit Contracts: Firms tacitly agree to stabilize prices, perhaps out of "fairness" to customers.
Non-Price Competition: This one is a bit more difficult to summarize...as such I will try to address it in a later blog post.
Implicit Contracts and Cost-Based Pricing: Though it did well in the survey, Okun's implicit contract theory is difficult to test. Okun's original idea was that firms would form these implicit contracts as a result of their desire to attract repeat customers and thus economize on search costs. Interestingly, firms in the survey with larger numbers of repeat customers did not rate this theory highly. Firms who rated this theory highly focused on the need to establish a general reputation for "fairness" or "fair-dealing." Now cost-based pricing only works as a theory of price stickiness if firms fail to react to anticipated increases in input prices (i.e., costs). Why would a firm not raise nominal prices if it sees nominal cost rises coming? Coordination failure and an unwillingness to antagonize customers perhaps (i.e., implicit contract theory)? But what about money illusion? Any implicit contracts that are optimal/rational would have to apply to relative prices (i.e. real prices). Thus there should be no money illusion...but Blinder's survey results clearly demonstrate that firms rarely pay attention to national inflation forecasts. Most real-world contracts are nominal. How to reconcile these two facts...perhaps if firms believe that customers suffer from money illusion, then frequently tinkering with nominal prices as part of an effort to stabilize real/relative prices might drive them off!
I really enjoyed reading this book. I think Blinder's contribution is significant and worthy of more notoriety than it seems to have attained. In fact I wonder if you could use the book to teach a graduate course (or part of one) in macro...