There are two striking aspects of the recovery from the Great Depression in the United States: the recovery was very weak and real wages in several sectors rose significantly above trend. These data contrast sharply with neoclassical theory, which predicts a strong recovery with low real wages. We evaluate the contribution of New Deal cartelization policies designed to limit competition and increase labor bargaining power to the persistence of the Depression. We develop a model of the bargaining process between labor and firms that occurred with these policies, and embed that model within a multi-sector dynamic general equilibrium model. We find that New Deal cartelization policies are an important factor in accounting for the post-1933 Depression. We also find that the key depressing element of New Deal policies was not collusion per se, but rather the link between paying high wages and collusion.
In the postwar period velocity has risen so sharply in the U.S. that the ratio of money to nominal output has fallen by a factor of three. We analyze the implications of shrinking money for the real effects of a monetary shock in two classes of equilibrium monetary business cycle models: limited participation (liquidity) models and predetermined (sticky) price models. We show that the liquidity model predicts that a rise in velocity leads to a substantial reduction in the real effects of a monetary shock. In sharp contrast, we show that the real effects of a monetary shock in the sticky price model are largely invariant to changes in velocity. We provide evidence that suggests that the real effects of monetary shocks have fallen over the postwar period.
Constant returns to scale is a central construct of neoclassical theory. Previous studies argued that one must adopt a specification of the production function with substantial unobserved service variation to reconcile constant returns with the data. Some economists have argued that this finding has not resolved the size of returns to scale, since factor service variation is unobserved, and there is no generally accepted theory to guide specification of this alternative framework. In this paper we show that the stochastic version of the neoclassical growth model delivers an orthogonality condition which can be used to estimate returns to scale. Rather than the standard finding of increasing returns, we show that standard theory and conventional measures of output and inputs yield estimates of constant returns to scale at the aggregate level. Our estimates also suggest that factor service variation is not an important determinant of output fluctuations.
After World War II, international capital flowed into slow-growing Latin America rather than fast-growing Asia. This is surprising as, everything else equal, fast growth should imply high capital returns. This paper develops a capital flow accounting framework to quantify the role of different factor market distortions in producing these patterns. Surprisingly, we find that distortions in labor markets — rather than domestic or international capital markets — account for the bulk of these flows. Labor market distortions that indirectly depress investment incentives by lowering equilibrium labor supply explain two-thirds of observed flows, while improvement in these distortions over time accounts for much of Asia’s rapid growth.
As part of compensation, municipal employees typically receive promises of future benefits. Motivated by the recent bankruptcy of Detroit, we develop a model of the equilibrium size of a city and use it to analyze how pay-with-promises schemes interact with city growth. The paper examines the circumstances under which a death spiral arises, where cutbacks of city services and increases in taxes lead to an exodus of residents, compounding financial distress. The model is put to work to analyze issues such as the welfare effects of having cities absorb pension risk and how unions affect the likelihood of a death spiral.
This paper presents a dynamic, stochastic general equilibrium study of the causes of the international Great Depression. We use a fully articulated model to assess the relative contributions of deflation/monetary shocks, which are the most commonly cited shocks for the Depression, and productivity shocks. We find that productivity is the dominant shock, accounting for about 2/3 of the Depression, with the monetary shock accounting for about 1/3. The main reason deflation doesn’t account for more of the Depression is because there is no systematic relationship between deflation and output during this period. Our finding that a persistent productivity shock is the key factor stands in contrast to the conventional view that a continuing sequence of unexpected deflation shocks was the major cause of the Depression. We also explore what factors might be causing the productivity shocks. We find some evidence that they are largely related to industrial activity, rather than agricultural activity, and that they are correlated with real exchange rates and non-deflationary shocks to the financial sector.
Latin American countries are the only Western countries that are poor and that aren’t gaining ground on the United States. This paper evaluates why Latin America has not replicated Western economic success. We find that this failure is primarily due to TFP differences. Latin America’s TFP gap is not plausibly accounted for by human capital differences, but rather reflects inefficient production. We argue that competitive barriers are a promising channel for understanding low Latin TFP. We document that Latin America has many more international and domestic competitive barriers than do Western and successful East Asian countries. We also document a number of microeconomic cases in Latin America in which large reductions in competitive barriers increase productivity to Western levels.
There is much debate about the usefulness of the neoclassical growth model for assessing the macroeconomic impact of fiscal shocks. We test the theory using data from World War II, which is by far the largest fiscal shock in the history of the United States. We take observed changes in fiscal policy during the war as inputs into a parameterized, dynamic general equilibrium model and compare the values of all variables in the model to the actual values of these variables in the data. Our main finding is that the theory quantitatively accounts for macroeconomic activity during this big fiscal shock.
Between 1913 and 1929, real GDP per person in the UK fell 1 percent, while this same measure of economic activity rose about 25 percent in the rest of the world. Why was Britain so depressed in a decade of strong economic activity around the world? This paper argues that the standard explanations of contractionary monetary shocks and an overvalued nominal exchange rate are not the prime suspects for killing the British economy. Rather, we argue that large, negative sectoral shocks, coupled with generous unemployment benefits and housing subsidies, are the primary causes of this long and deep depression.
Between 1929 and 1933, real output per adult fell over 30 percent and total factor productivity fell 18 percent. This productivity decrease is much larger than expected from just extrapolating the productivity decrease that typically occurs during recessions. This paper evaluates what factors may have caused this large decrease, including unmeasured factor utilization, changes in the composition of production, and increasing returns. I find that these factors combined explain less than one-third of the 18 percent decrease, and I conclude that the productivity decrease during the Great Depression remains a puzzle.
This paper quantitatively evaluates the hypothesis that deflation can account for much of the Great Depression (1929–33). We examine two popular explanations of the Depression: (1) The “high wage” story, according to which deflation, combined with imperfectly flexible wages, raised real wages and reduced employment and output. (2) The “bank failure” story, according to which deflationary money shocks contributed to bank failures and to a reduction in the efficiency of financial intermediation, which in turn reduced lending and output. We evaluate these stories using general equilibrium business cycle models, and find that wage shocks and banking shocks account for a small fraction of the Great Depression. We also find that some other predictions of the theories are at variance with the data.
Autoregressions of quarterly or annual aggregate time series provide evidence of trend-reverting output growth and of short-term dynamic adjustment that appears to be governed by complex eigenvalues. This finding is at odds with the predictions of reasonably parameterized, convex one-sector growth models, most of which have positive real characteristic roots. We study a class of one-sector economies, overlapping generations with finite life spans of L greater than or equal to 3, in which aggregate saving depends nontrivially on the distribution of wealth among cohorts. If consumption goods are weak gross substitutes near the steady state price vector, we prove that the unique equilibrium of a life cycle exchange economy converges to the unique steady state via damped oscillations. We also conjecture that this form of trend reversion extends to production economies with a relatively flat factor-price frontier, and we test this conjecture in several plausible parameterizations of 55-period life cycle economies.
This paper reviews The Defining Moment, edited by Michael D. Bordo, Claudia Goldin, and Eugene N. White. The volume studies how the Great Depression changed government policies, including changes in monetary policy, fiscal policy, banking policy, agricultural policy, social insurance, and international economic policy. I argue that a theory of policy evolution is required to answer how the Great Depression affected these policies. In the absence of this theory, the contributors provide insight into the question by showing how policies changed sharply in the 1930s with little or no historical precedent or by showing how policies were tied to political or other considerations unique to the period. While this volume doesn’t always provide answers to the questions posed, it does raise a fundamental issue in the analysis of government policy: Why during some crisis periods are bad policies adopted, whereas during other periods, they are not?
Many economists have worried about changes in the demand for money, since money demand shocks can affect output variability and have implications for monetary policy. This paper studies the theoretical implications of changes in money demand for the nonneutrality of money in the limited participation (liquidity) model and the predetermined (sticky) price model. In the liquidity model, we find that an important connection exists between the nonneutrality of money and the relative money demands of households and firms. This model predicts that the real effect of a money shock rose by 100 percent between 1952 and 1980, and subsequently declined 65 percent. In contrast, we find that the nonneutrality of money in the sticky price model is invariant to changes in money demands or other monetary factors. Several researchers have concluded from VAR analyses that the effects of money shock over time are roughly stable. This view is consistent with the predictions of the sticky price model, but is harder to reconcile with the specific pattern of time variation predicted by the liquidity model.
Unit root tests against trend break alternatives are based on the premise that the dating of the trend breaks coincides with major economic events with permanent effects on economic activity, such as wars and depressions. Standard economic theory, however, suggests that these events have large transitory, rather than permanent, effects on economic activity. Conventional unit root tests against trend break alternatives based on linear ARIMA models do not capture these transitory effects and can result in severely distorted inference. We quantify the size distortions for a simple model in which the effects of wars and depressions can reasonably be interpreted as transitory. Monte Carlo simulations show that in moderate samples, the widely used Zivot-Andrews (1992) test mistakes transitory dynamics for trend breaks with high probability. We conclude that these tests should be used only if there are no plausible economic explanations for apparent trend breaks in the data.
We propose a constructive, multivariate framework for assessing agreement between (generally misspecified) dynamic equilibrium models and data, a framework which enables a complete second-order comparison of the dynamic properties of models and data. We use bootstrap algorithms to evaluate the significance of deviations between models and data, and we use goodness-of-fit criteria to produce estimators that optimize economically relevant loss functions. We provide a detailed illustrative application to modeling the U.S. cattle cycle.
The notion of skilled-biased technological change is often held responsible for the recent behavior of the U.S. skill premium, or the ratio between the wages of skilled and unskilled labor. This paper develops a framework for understanding this notion in terms of observable variables and uses the framework to evaluate the fraction of the skill premium's variation that is caused by changes in observables. A version of the neoclassical growth model is used in which the key feature of aggregate technology is capital-skill complementarity: the elasticity of substitution is higher between capital equipment and unskilled labor than between capital equipment and skilled labor. With this feature, changes in observables can account for nearly all the variation in the skill premium over the last 30 years. This finding suggests that increased wage inequality results from economic growth driven by new, efficient technologies embodied in capital equipment.