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The Role of Consumption in Economic Fluctuations

In: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change

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  • Robert E. Hall

Abstract

Consumption and income tend to move together; the correlation of their first differences is about 0.14. In most accounts, the correlation is attributed to the upward slope of the consumption function. When the publicis better off, they consume more. But in the microeconomic theory of the household, income is a variable chosen by the household. Choosing to workmore, and therefore to consume less time away from work, is a sign of diminished well being.The structural relation between earnings and consumption should have a negative slope.The explanation of the observed positive correlation of consumption and income must rest on shifts of the consumption-income relation, not movements along it. An examination of data for the U.S. in the twentieth century shows that the slope of the consumption-income relation has been approximately zero. Shifts in consumer behavior explain the positive observed correlation; they are an important, but not dominant, source of overall fluctuations in the aggregate economy.
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Suggested Citation

  • Robert E. Hall, 1986. "The Role of Consumption in Economic Fluctuations," NBER Chapters,in: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change, pages 237-266 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10024
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    1. Hall, Robert E, 1978. "Stochastic Implications of the Life Cycle-Permanent Income Hypothesis: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(6), pages 971-987, December.
    2. MaCurdy, Thomas E, 1981. "An Empirical Model of Labor Supply in a Life-Cycle Setting," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(6), pages 1059-1085, December.
    3. Barro, Robert J, 1981. "Output Effects of Government Purchases," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(6), pages 1086-1121, December.
    4. Joseph G. Altonji, 1982. "The Intertemporal Substitution Model of Labour Market Fluctuations: An Empirical Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 49(5), pages 783-824.
    5. Hall, Robert E & Mishkin, Frederic S, 1982. "The Sensitivity of Consumption to Transitory Income: Estimates from Panel Data on Households," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(2), pages 461-481, March.
    6. Long, John B, Jr & Plosser, Charles I, 1983. "Real Business Cycles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(1), pages 39-69, February.
    7. N. Gregory Mankiw & Julio J. Rotemberg & Lawrence H. Summers, 1985. "Intertemporal Substitution in Macroeconomics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(1), pages 225-251.
    8. Robert J. Barro & Robert G. King, 1984. "Time-Separable Preferences and Intertemporal-Substitution Models of Business Cycles," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(4), pages 817-839.
    9. Peter M. Garber & Robert G. King, 1983. "Deep Structral Excavation? A Critique of Euler Equation Methods," NBER Technical Working Papers 0031, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Flavin, Marjorie A, 1981. "The Adjustment of Consumption to Changing Expectations about Future Income," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 974-1009, October.
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