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The Great Depression in the United States from a neoclassical perspective

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  • Harold L. Cole
  • Lee E. Ohanian

Abstract

Can neoclassical theory account for the Great Depression in the United States—both the downturn in output between 1929 and 1933 and the recovery between 1934 and 1939? Yes and no. Given the large real and monetary shocks to the U.S. economy during 1929–33, neoclassical theory does predict a long, deep downturn. However, theory predicts a much different recovery from this downturn than actually occurred. Given the period’s sharp increases in total factor productivity and the money supply and the elimination of deflation and bank failures, theory predicts an extremely rapid recovery that returns output to trend around 1936. In sharp contrast, real output remained between 25 and 30 percent below trend through the late 1930s. We conclude that a new shock is needed to account for the Depression’s weak recovery. A likely culprit is New Deal policies toward monopoly and the distribution of income.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in its journal Quarterly Review.

Volume (Year): (1999)
Issue (Month): Win ()
Pages: 2-24

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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmqr:y:1999:i:win:p:2-24:n:v.23no.1

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Keywords: Depressions;

References

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  1. Russell Cooper & Dean Corbae, 1997. "Financial Fragility and the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 6094, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Joines, Douglas H, 1981. "Estimates of Effective Marginal Tax Rates on Factor Incomes," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(2), pages 191-226, April.
  3. Charles W. Calomiris, 1993. "Financial Factors in the Great Depression," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 61-85, Spring.
  4. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1972. "Expectations and the neutrality of money," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 103-124, April.
  5. Sanford J. Grossman & Robert J. Shiller, 1980. "The Determinants of the Variability of Stock Market Prices," NBER Working Papers 0564, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Crucini, Mario J. & Kahn, James, 1996. "Tariffs and aggregate economic activity: Lessons from the Great Depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 427-467, December.
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  10. Lucas, Robert E, Jr & Rapping, Leonard A, 1969. "Real Wages, Employment, and Inflation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 77(5), pages 721-54, Sept./Oct.
  11. Bernanke, Ben S & Carey, Kevin, 1996. "Nominal Wage Stickiness and Aggregate Supply in the Great Depression," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(3), pages 853-83, August.
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  15. Ohanian, Lee E, 1997. "The Macroeconomic Effects of War Finance in the United States: World War II and the Korean War," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 23-40, March.
  16. Ben S. Bernanke, 1983. "Non-Monetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in the Propagation of the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 1054, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. King, Robert G. & Plosser, Charles I. & Rebelo, Sergio T., 1988. "Production, growth and business cycles : I. The basic neoclassical model," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2-3), pages 195-232.
  18. Anton Braun, R., 1994. "Tax disturbances and real economic activity in the postwar United States," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 441-462, June.
  19. Ben S. Bernanke & Martin L. Parkinson, 1990. "Procyclical Labor Productivity and Competing Theories of the Business Cycle: Some Evidence from Interwar U.S. Manufacturing Industries," NBER Working Papers 3503, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  22. David Cass, 1964. "Optimum Economic Growth in an Aggregative Model of Capital Accumulation: A Turnpike Theorem," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 178, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
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  1. A multi-sectoral approach to the U.S. Great Depression
    by Christian Zimmermann in NEP-DGE blog on 2010-02-08 01:58:23
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