In this paper we make the following three claims. (1), in contradiction with the conventional view according to which the French depression was very different to that observed in the US, we argue that there are more similarities than differences between the French and U.S. experiences and therefore a common explanation should be sought. (2), poor growth in technological opportunities appear neither necessary nor sufficient to account for the French depression. (3), changes in institutional and market regulation appear necessary to account for the overall changes observed over the period. Moreover, we show that the size of these institutional changes may by themselves be enough to quantatively explain the French depression. However, at this time, we have no theory to explain the size or the timing of these changes.
There were three important changes in the United States economy during the 1980s. First, from 1982-90, the decade featured the longest consecutive stretch of positive quarterly output growth in United States history. Second, wage inequality expanded greatly as the wages of highly skilled workers grew markedly faster than the wages of less skilled workers (Katz and Murphy (1992)). Finally, consumption inequality also expanded as the consumption of highly skilled workers grew faster than that of less skilled workers (Attanasio and Davis (1994)). This paper argues that these three aspects of the United States economic experience can be interpreted as being part of an efficient response to a macroeconomic shock given the existence of a particular technological impediment to full insurance. I examine the properties of efficient allocations of risk in an economic environment in which the outside enforcement of risksharing arrangements is infinitely costly. In these allocations, relative productivity movements have effects on both the current and future distribution of consumption across individuals. If preferences over consumption and leisure are nonhomothetic, these changes in the allocation of consumption will generate persistent cycles in aggregate output that do not occur in efficient allocations when enforcement is costless.
We introduce, into a version of the Real Business Cycle model, mild increasing returns-to-scale. These increasing returns-to-scale occur as a consequence of sector specific externalities, that is externalities where the output of the consumption and investment sectors have external effects on the output of firms within their own sector. Keeping the production technologies for both sectors identical for expositional simplicity, we show that indeterminacy can easily occur for parameter values typically used in the real business cycle literature, and in contrast to some earlier literature on indeterminacies, for externalities mild enough so that labor demand curves are downward sloping.
The new classical view that macroeconomic fluctuations can be modeled as an equilibrium system perturbed by transitory monetary disturbances has been challenged in recent years by another equilibrium view of fluctuations, the so-called real business cycle theory. In this latter framework, shocks to the production function induce both intertemporal substitution of labor supply and permanent shifts in the stochastic trend of output. Monetary shocks, on the other hand, play only a minor role in this view of the cycle. Much of the empirical support for the real business cycle view of fluctuations is based on a re-examination of traditional methods for detrending economic time series. The issues raised by the real business cycle theorists are not new; indeed, they go back at least to the NBER's first business cycle studies. However, the real business cycle theorists attach a radical economic interpretation to what, on the surface, appears to be a purely technical note on the proper method for detrending economic data. This paper reviews the debate over stochastic trends, discusses the economic implications of the real business cycle interpretation of stochastic trend models, and weighs the time series evidence for some of the stronger claims made by real business cycle theorists. We conclude that, while this literature raises real and useful questions about the interpretation of observed fluctuations, the new classical view of the cycle is not ruled out by the data.