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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 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4415.

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Date of creation: Aug 1993
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Publication status: published as Economics Letters, Vol. 47, no. 1 (January 1995): p. 41-45
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4415

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Hansen, Lars Peter, 1982. "Large Sample Properties of Generalized Method of Moments Estimators," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(4), pages 1029-54, July.
  5. Caballero, R.J. & Lyons, R.K., 1991. "External Effects in U.S. Procyclical Productivity," Papers 91-19, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
  6. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum & Sergio Rebelo, 1990. "Labor Hoarding and the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 3556, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Edward C. Prescott, 1986. "Theory ahead of business cycle measurement," Staff Report 102, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  8. Robert A. Margo, 1993. "Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 41-59, Spring.
  9. R. Anton Braun & Charles L. Evans, 1991. "Seasonal Solow residuals and Christmas: a case for labor hoarding and increasing returns," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues 91-20, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  10. Robert G. King, 1991. "Money and business cycles," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
  11. Gary Hansen, 2010. "Indivisible Labor and the Business Cycle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 233, David K. Levine.
  12. Ben S. Bernanke & James L. Powell, 1984. "The Cyclical Behavior of Industrial Labor Markets: A Comparison of the Pre-War and Post-War Eras," NBER Working Papers 1376, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. 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.
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Cited by:
  1. 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.
  2. Weder, Mark, 2001. "The great demand depression," SFB 373 Discussion Papers 2001,53, Humboldt University of Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Project 373: Quantification and Simulation of Economic Processes.
  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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