This paper proposes a simple method for guiding researchers in developing quantitative models of economic fluctuations. We show that a large class of models, including models with various frictions, are equivalent to a prototype growth model with time varying wedges that, at least on face value, look like time-varying productivity, labor taxes, and capital income taxes. We label the time varying wedges as efficiency wedges, labor wedges, and investment wedges. We use data to measure these wedges and then feed them back into the prototype growth model. We then assess the fraction of fluctuations accounted for by these wedges during the great depressions of the 1930s in the United States, Germany, and Canada. We find that the efficiency and labor wedges in combination account for essentially all of the declines and subsequent recoveries. Investment wedge plays at best a minor role.
It is widely believed that an important factor underlying the rapid growth in China is increased foreign direct investment (FDI) and the transfer of foreign technology capital, which is accumulated know-how from investment in research and development (R&D), brands, and organizations that is not specific to a plant. In this paper, we study two channels through which FDI can contribute to upgrading of the stock of technology capital: knowledge spillovers and appropriation. Knowledge spillovers lead to new ideas that do not directly compete or devalue the foreign affiliate's stock. Appropriation, on the other hand, implies a redistribution of property rights over patents and trademarks; the gain to domestic companies comes at a loss to the multinational company (MNC). In this paper we build these sources of technology capital transfer into the framework developed by McGrattan and Prescott (2009, 2010) and introduce an endogenously-chosen intensity margin for operating technology capital in order to capture the trade-offs MNCs face when expanding their markets internationally. We first demonstrate that abstracting from technology capital transfers results in predicted bilateral FDI inflows to China that are grossly at odds with the data. We then use the bilateral inflows to parameterize the model with technology capital transfers and compute the global economic impact of Chinese policies that encouraged greater inflows of FDI and technology capital transfers. Microevidence on automobile patents is used to support our parameter choices and main findings.
Empirical studies quantifying the benefits of increased foreign direct investment (FDI) have been unable to provide conclusive evidence of a positive impact on the host country’s economic performance. I show that the lack of robust evidence is not inconsistent with theory, even if the gains to FDI openness are large. Anticipated welfare gains to increased inward FDI should lead to immediate declines in domestic investment and employment and eventual increases. Furthermore, since part of FDI is intangible investment that is expensed from company profits, gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP) should decline during periods of abnormally high FDI investment. Using the model of McGrattan and Prescott (2009) and data from the IMF Balance of Payments to parameterize the time paths of FDI openness for each country in the sample, I do not find an economically significant relationship between the amount of inward FDI a country did over the period 1980—2005 and the growth in real GDP predicted by the model. This finding rests crucially on the fact that most of these countries are still in transition to FDI openness.
Previous studies quantifying the effects of increased taxation during the U.S. Great Depression find that its contribution is small, in accounting for both the downturn in the early 1930s and the slow recovery after 1934. This paper shows that this conclusion rests critically on the assumption that the only taxable capital income is business profits. Effects of capital taxation are much larger when taxes on property, capital stock, excess profits, undistributed profits, and dividends are included in the analysis. When fed into a general equilibrium model, the increased taxes imply significant declines in investment and equity values and nontrivial declines in gross domestic product (GDP) and hours of work. Of particular importance during the Great Depression was the dramatic rise in the effective tax rate on corporate dividends.
In the 1970s macroeconomists often disagreed bitterly. Macroeconomists have now largely converged on method, model design, and macroeconomic policy advice. The disagreements that remain all stem from the practical implementation of the methodology. Some macroeconomists think that New Keynesian models are on the verge of being useful for quarter-to-quarter quantitative policy advice. We do not. We argue that the shocks in these models are dubiously structural and show that many of the features of the model as well as the implications due to these features are inconsistent with microeconomic evidence. These arguments lead us to conclude that New Keynesian models are not yet useful for policy analysis.
Over the period 1982–2006, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimates the return on investments of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational companies averaged 9.4 percent per year after taxes while U.S. subsidiaries of foreign multinationals earned on average only 3.2 percent. We estimate the importance of two factors that distort BEA returns: technology capital and plant-specific intangible capital. Technology capital is accumulated know-how from intangible investments in R&D, brands, and organizations that can be used in foreign and domestic locations. Technology capital used abroad generates profits for foreign subsidiaries with no foreign direct investment. Plant-specific intangible capital in foreign subsidiaries is expensed abroad, lowering current profits on foreign direct investment (FDI) and increasing future profits. We develop a multicountry general equilibrium model with an essential role for FDI and apply the same methodology as the BEA to construct economic statistics for the model economy. We estimate that mismeasurement of intangible investments accounts for over 60 percent of the difference in BEA returns.
U.S. stock prices have increased much faster than gross domestic product GDP) in the postwar period. Between 1962 and 2000, corporate equity value relative to GDP nearly doubled. In this paper, we determine what standard growth theory says the equity value should be in 1962 and 2000, the two years for which our steady-state assumption is a reasonable one. We find that the actual valuations were close to the theoretical predictions in both years. The reason for the large run-up in equity value relative to GDP is that the average tax rate on dividends fell dramatically between 1962 and 2000. We also find that, given legal constraints that effectively prohibited the holding of stocks as reserves for pension plans, there is no equity premium puzzle in the postwar period. The average returns on debt and equity are as theory predicts.
We describe a model for calculating the optimal quantity of debt and then apply it to the U.S. economy. The model consists of a large number of infinitely-lived households whose saving behavior is influenced by precautionary saving motives and borrowing constraints. This model incorporates a different role for government debt than the standard representative agent growth model and captures different trade-offs between the benefits and costs of varying its level. Government debt enhances the liquidity of households by providing additional assets for smoothing consumption (in addition to claims to capital) and effectively loosening borrowing constraints. By raising the interest rate, government debt makes assets less costly to hold and more effective in smoothing consumption. However, the implied taxes have wealth distribution, incentive, and insurance effects. Further, government debt crowds out capital (via higher interest rates) and lowers per capita consumption. Our quantitative analysis suggests that the crowding out effect is decisive for welfare. We also describe variations of the model which permit endogenous growth. It turns out that even with lump sum taxes and inelastic labor, government debt as well as government consumption have growth rate effects, thereby implying large welfare gains from reducing the level of debt.
Macroeconomists have largely converged on method, model design, reduced-form shocks, and principles of policy advice. Our main disagreements today are about implementing the methodology. Some think New Keynesian models are ready to be used for quarter-to-quarter quantitative policy advice; we do not. Focusing on the state-of-the-art version of these models, we argue that some of its shocks and other features are not structural or consistent with microeconomic evidence. Since an accurate structural model is essential to reliably evaluate the effects of policies, we conclude that New Keynesian models are not yet useful for policy analysis.