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Accounting for the Great Depression

  • Patrick J. Kehoe
  • Ellen R. McGrattan

Economists have offered many theories for the U.S. Great Depression, but no consensus has formed on the main forces behind it. Here we describe and demonstrate a simple methodology for determining which theories are the most promising. We show that a large class of models, including models with various frictions, are equivalent to a prototype growth model with time-varying efficiency, labor, and investment wedges that, at least on face value, look like time-varying productivity, labor taxes, and investment taxes. We use U.S. data to measure these wedges, feed them back into the prototype growth model, and assess the fraction of the fluctuations in 1929?39 that they account for. We find that the efficiency and labor wedges account for essentially all of the decline and subsequent recovery. Investment wedges play, at best, a minor role. This article originally appeared in the American Economic Review. (c) American Economic Association. ; RELATED PAPER: Staff Report 328 Business Cycle Accounting

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 92 (2002)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 22-27

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:92:y:2002:i:2:p:22-27
Note: DOI: 10.1257/000282802320188934
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  1. V V Chari & Patrick J Kehoe & Ellen R. McGrattan, 2003. "Business Cycle Accounting," Levine's Bibliography 506439000000000421, UCLA Department of Economics.
  2. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian, 2004. "New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(4), pages 779-816, August.
  3. Michael D. Bordo & Christopher J. Erceg & Charles L. Evans, 1997. "Money, sticky wages, and the Great Depression," International Finance Discussion Papers 591, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. Charles T. Carlstrom & Timothy S. Fuerst, 1996. "Agency costs, net worth, and business fluctuations: a computable general equilibrium analysis," Working Paper 9602, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  5. Bernanke, Ben & Gertler, Mark, 1989. "Agency Costs, Net Worth, and Business Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 14-31, March.
  6. Casey B. Mulligan, 2002. "A Dual Method of Empirically Evaluating Dynamic Competitive Equilibrium Models with Market Distortions, Applied to the Great Depression & World War II," NBER Working Papers 8775, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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