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Labor productivity during the Great Depression

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  • Bordo, Michael D.
  • Evans, Charles L.

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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Suggested Citation

  • Bordo, Michael D. & Evans, Charles L., 1995. "Labor productivity during the Great Depression," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 41-45, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolet:v:47:y:1995:i:1:p:41-45
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Newey, Whitney & West, Kenneth, 2014. "A simple, positive semi-definite, heteroscedasticity and autocorrelation consistent covariance matrix," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 33(1), pages 125-132.
    3. Hansen, Lars Peter, 1982. "Large Sample Properties of Generalized Method of Moments Estimators," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(4), pages 1029-1054, July.
    4. Hansen, Gary D., 1985. "Indivisible labor and the business cycle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 309-327, November.
    5. Christiano, Lawrence J & Eichenbaum, Martin, 1992. "Current Real-Business-Cycle Theories and Aggregate Labor-Market Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 430-450, June.
    6. Burnside, Craig & Eichenbaum, Martin & Rebelo, Sergio, 1993. "Labor Hoarding and the Business Cycle," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(2), pages 245-273, April.
    7. Caballero, Ricardo J. & Lyons, Richard K., 1992. "External effects in U.S. procyclical productivity," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 209-225, April.
    8. Braun, R Anton & Evans, Charles L, 1998. "Seasonal Solow Residuals and Christmas: A Case for Labor Hoarding and Increasing Returns," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 30(3), pages 306-330, August.
    9. Robert G. King, 1991. "Money and business cycles," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
    10. 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.
    11. Robert A. Margo, 1993. "Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 41-59, Spring.
    12. Hodrick, Robert J & Prescott, Edward C, 1997. "Postwar U.S. Business Cycles: An Empirical Investigation," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 29(1), pages 1-16, February.
    13. Bernanke, Ben S & Parkinson, Martin L, 1991. "Procyclical Labor Productivity and Competing Theories of the Business Cycle: Some Evidence from Interwar U.S. Manufacturing Industries," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(3), pages 439-459, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. James C. MacGee & Pedro S. Amaral, 2010. "A Multi-sectoral Approach to the U.S. Great Depression," 2010 Meeting Papers 1242, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    2. Weder, Mark, 2001. "The Great Demand Depression," CEPR Discussion Papers 3067, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    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.
    4. Pedro S. Amaral & James C. MacGee, 2012. "Re-Examining the Role of Sticky Wages in the U.S. Great Contraction: A Multi-sector Approach," University of Western Ontario, Economic Policy Research Institute Working Papers 20125, University of Western Ontario, Economic Policy Research Institute.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E3 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles
    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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