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Payment uncertainty, the division of labor, and productivity declines in great depressions


  • Keiichiro Kobayashi

    (Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry)


This paper proposes a simple model that formalizes a variant of Ohanian's (2001) conjecture explaining the productivity declines observed in the Great Depression. If a large payment shock like an asset-price collapse renders many firms insolvent, other economic agents become exposed to a higher risk of not being paid (payment uncertainty). The payment uncertainty causes endogenous disruptions of the division of labor among firms, thereby lowering macroeconomic productivity. The prediction of the model is that productivity correlates negatively with bankruptcies and positively with the cost share of intermediate inputs, which is consistent with the data from depression episodes. The model implies that the so-called failure of macroeconomic policy in the United States during the early 1930s, when a rash of bankruptcies occurred, could actually have been welfare enhancing, since the quick exit of insolvent agents can resolve payment uncertainty quickly. (Copyright: Elsevier)

Suggested Citation

  • Keiichiro Kobayashi, 2006. "Payment uncertainty, the division of labor, and productivity declines in great depressions," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 9(4), pages 715-741, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:issued:05-50
    DOI: 10.1016/

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. V. V. Chari & Patrick J. Kehoe & Ellen R. McGrattan, 2002. "Accounting for the Great Depression (technical appendix)," Working Papers 619, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    2. Basu, Susanto, 1995. "Intermediate Goods and Business Cycles: Implications for Productivity and Welfare," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 512-531, June.
    3. Kobayashi, Keiichiro, 2007. "Payment Uncertainty And The Productivity Slowdown," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(02), pages 231-248, April.
    4. Gary S. Becker & Kevin M. Murphy, 1994. "The Division of Labor, Coordination Costs, and Knowledge," NBER Chapters,in: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (3rd Edition), pages 299-322 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Olivier Blanchard & Michael Kremer, 1997. "Disorganization," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1091-1126.
    6. Lee E. Ohanian, 2002. "Why did productivity fall so much during the Great Depression?," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Spr.
    7. Kobayashi, Keiichiro & Inaba, Masaru, 2006. "Business cycle accounting for the Japanese economy," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 18(4), pages 418-440, December.
    8. V. V. Chari & Patrick J. Kehoe & Ellen R. McGrattan, 2003. "Accounting for the Great Depression," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Spr, pages 2-8.
    9. Lamont, Owen, 1995. "Corporate-Debt Overhang and Macroeconomic Expectations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1106-1117, December.
    10. Timothy J. Kehoe & Edward C. Prescott(), 2007. "Great depressions of the twentieth century," Monograph, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, number 2007gdott.
    11. 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.
    12. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian, 2002. "The U.S. and U.K. Great Depressions Through the Lens of Neoclassical Growth Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 28-32, May.
    13. Nobuhiro Kiyotaki & John Moore, 1997. "Credit Chains," ESE Discussion Papers 118, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
    14. Kobayashi, Keiichiro & Inaba, Masaru, 2005. "Debt disorganization in Japan," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 151-169, April.
    15. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian, 1999. "The Great Depression in the United States from a neoclassical perspective," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Win, pages 2-24.
    16. Kim, Sunwoong, 1989. "Labor Specialization and the Extent of the Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(3), pages 692-705, June.
    17. Dale W. Jorgenson & Kazuyuki Motohashi, 2003. "Economic Growth of Japan and the United States in the Information Age," Discussion papers 03015, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
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    Cited by:

    1. Hatchondo, Juan Carlos & Martinez, Leonardo, 2009. "Long-duration bonds and sovereign defaults," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 117-125, September.
    2. KOBAYASHI Keiichiro, 2009. "Asset-Price Collapse and Market Disruption - A model of financial crises -," Discussion papers 09045, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    3. Juan Carlos Hatchondo & Leonardo Martinez & Horacio Sapriza, 2009. "Heterogeneous Borrowers In Quantitative Models Of Sovereign Default," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 50(4), pages 1129-1151, November.
    4. repec:wsi:serxxx:v:62:y:2017:i:01:n:s0217590817400045 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Akiyoshi, Fumio & Kobayashi, Keiichiro, 2010. "Banking crisis and productivity of borrowing firms: Evidence from Japan," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 141-150, August.

    More about this item


    Payment uncertainty; Productivity; Division of labor; Great depressions;

    JEL classification:

    • D24 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Production; Cost; Capital; Capital, Total Factor, and Multifactor Productivity; Capacity
    • E13 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - Neoclassical
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • E65 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Studies of Particular Policy Episodes


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