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Did Technology Shocks Drive the Great Depression? Explaining Cyclical Productivity Movements in U.S. Manufacturing, 1919–1939




Technology shocks and declining productivity have been advanced as important factors driving the Great Depression in the United States, based on real business cycle theory. We estimate an improved measure of technology for interwar manufacturing, using data from the U.S. census reports. There is clear evidence of increasing returns to scale and we find no statistical proof that technology shocks led to changes in hours worked or other inputs. This contradicts a key prediction of real business cycle theory. We find that increasing returns to scale are not due to market power but to labor and capital hoarding.

Suggested Citation

  • Inklaar, Robert & De Jong, Herman & Gouma, Reitze, 2011. "Did Technology Shocks Drive the Great Depression? Explaining Cyclical Productivity Movements in U.S. Manufacturing, 1919–1939," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 71(04), pages 827-858, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:71:y:2011:i:04:p:827-858_00

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