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The Role of Consumption in Economic Fluctuations

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  • Robert E. Hall

Abstract

Consumption and income tend to move together; the correlation of their first differences is about 0.14. In most accounts, the correlation is attributed to the upward slope of the consumption function. When the publicis better off, they consume more. But in the microeconomic theory of the household, income is a variable chosen by the household. Choosing to workmore, and therefore to consume less time away from work, is a sign of diminished well being.The structural relation between earnings and consumption should have a negative slope.The explanation of the observed positive correlation of consumption and income must rest on shifts of the consumption-income relation, not movements along it. An examination of data for the U.S. in the twentieth century shows that the slope of the consumption-income relation has been approximately zero. Shifts in consumer behavior explain the positive observed correlation; they are an important, but not dominant, source of overall fluctuations in the aggregate economy.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 1391.

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Date of creation: Nov 1986
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Publication status: published as Robert E. Hall. "The Role of Consumption in Economic Fluctuations," in Robert J. Gordon, ed., "The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change" University of Chicago Press (1986)
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1391

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  1. N. Gregory Mankiw & Julio J. Rotemberg & Lawrence H. Summers, 1986. "Intertemporal Substitution in Macroeconomics," NBER Working Papers 0898, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Robert J. Barro & Robert G. King, 1985. "Time-Separable Preference and Intertemporal-Substitution Models of Business Cycles," NBER Working Papers 0888, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Altonji, Joseph G, 1982. "The Intertemporal Substitution Model of Labour Market Fluctuations: An Empirical Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(5), pages 783-824, Special I.
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