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Labor productivity during the Great Depression

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  • Michael D. Bordo
  • Charles L. Evans

Abstract

In a recent paper, Bemanke and Parkinson (1991) studied interwar U.S. manufacturing data with the objective of assessing competing theories of the business cycle. An important finding was that short-run increasing returns to Labor (SRIRL), or procyclical labor productivity, was at least as strong during the Great Depression as in the postwar period. The authors conclude that this information casts further doubt on the real business cycle explanation of economic fluctuations. The purpose of this note is to point out that, within the data set analyzed by Bemanke and Parkinson (20% of the manufacturing sector), labor productivity during the Great Depression (1928:III to 1933:1) was procyclical in some industries and countercyclical in others. Furthermore, our measure of labor productivity for the entire manufacturing sector during this period was countercyclical. We conclude that the evidence is not favorable toward the hypothesis that large, negative aggregate demand shocks pushed the 1929-33 economy down a static, neoclassical production function. Another possibility is that firms which typically hoarded labor during recessions chose not to do so during the 1929-33 period.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in its series Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues with number 93-10.

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Date of creation: 1993
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhma:93-10

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Keywords: Labor productivity ; Depressions;

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References

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  1. Whitney K. Newey & Kenneth D. West, 1986. "A Simple, Positive Semi-Definite, Heteroskedasticity and AutocorrelationConsistent Covariance Matrix," NBER Technical Working Papers 0055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  3. Lawrence J. Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum, 1990. "Current real business cycle theories and aggregate labor market fluctuations," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 24, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  4. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum & Sergio Rebelo, 1990. "Labor Hoarding and the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 3556, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Robert J. Hodrick & Edward Prescott, 1981. "Post-War U.S. Business Cycles: An Empirical Investigation," Discussion Papers 451, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  6. Hansen, Lars Peter, 1982. "Large Sample Properties of Generalized Method of Moments Estimators," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(4), pages 1029-54, July.
  7. Robert A. Margo, 1992. "Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s," NBER Working Papers 4174, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Prescott, Edward C., 1986. "Theory ahead of business-cycle measurement," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 11-44, January.
  9. Ben S. Bernanke & James Powell, 1986. "The Cyclical Behavior of Industrial Labor Markets: A Comparison of the Prewar and Postwar Eras," NBER Chapters, in: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change, pages 583-638 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Robert G. King, 1991. "Money and business cycles," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
  11. Hansen, Gary D., 1985. "Indivisible labor and the business cycle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 309-327, November.
  12. R. Anton Braun & Charles L. Evans, 1996. "Seasonal Solow residuals and Christmas: a case for labor hoarding and increasing returns," Working Papers 575, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  13. Caballero, R.J. & Lyons, R.K., 1991. "External Effects in U.S. Procyclical Productivity," Papers 91-19, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
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Cited by:
  1. Weder, Mark, 2001. "The Great Demand Depression," CEPR Discussion Papers 3067, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Pedro S. Amaral & James C. MacGee, 2009. "A multi-sectoral approach to the U.S. Great Depression," Working Paper 0911, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  3. Rockoff, Hugh & White, Eugene N., 2012. "Monetary Regimes and Policy on a Global Scale: The Oeuvre of Michael D. Bordo," MPRA Paper 49672, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised May 2013.

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