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The Changing Cyclical Variability of Economic Activity in the United States

In: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change

  • J. Bradford DeLong
  • Lawrence H. Summers

This paper examines the changing cyclical variability of economic activity in the United States. It first shows that the decline in variability since World War II cannot be explained by changes in the composition of economic activity or by the avoidance of financial panics. We then show that increased automatic stabilization by the government, and the increased availability of private credit after World War II combined to stabilize consumption and reduce the variability of aggregate demand. The main argument of the paper holds that greater price rigidity in recent times may have contributed to economic stability by preventing destabilizing deflations and inflations. Empirical evidence is presented to support this proposition.

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This chapter was published in:
  • Robert J. Gordon, 1986. "The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gord86-1, March.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10034.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10034
    Contact details of provider: Postal:
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    1. Martin Neil Baily, 1978. "Stabilization Policy and Private Economic Behavior," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 9(1), pages 11-60.
    2. Tobin, James, 1975. "Keynesian Models of Recession and Depression," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(2), pages 195-202, May.
    3. A. Piatt Andrew, 1908. "Substitutes for Cash in the Panic of 1907," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(4), pages 497-516.
    4. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1961. "Capital in the American Economy: Its Formation and Financing," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn61-1, March.
    5. William Howard Shaw, 1947. "Value of Commodity Output Since 1869," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number shaw47-1, March.
    6. Gordon, Robert J, 1980. "A Consistent Characterization of a Near-Century of Price Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(2), pages 243-49, May.
    7. Blanchard, Olivier J, 1981. "What Is Left of the Multiplier Accelerator?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(2), pages 150-54, May.
    8. Philip Cagan, 1965. "Determinants and Effects of Changes in the Stock of Money, 1875–1960," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number caga65-1, March.
    9. Charles L. Schultze, 1981. "Some Macro Foundations for Micro Theory," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 12(2), pages 521-592.
    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.
    11. Anna J. Schwartz, 1984. "Introduction to "A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, 1821-1931"," NBER Chapters, in: A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, 1821-1931, pages 1-22 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Sachs, Jeffrey, 1980. "The Changing Cyclical Behavior of Wages and Prices: 1890-1976," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(1), pages 78-90, March.
    13. Milton Friedman & Anna J. Schwartz, 1963. "A Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number frie63-1, March.
    14. repec:ucp:bknber:9780226065908 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Michael D. Bordo & Anna J. Schwartz, 1984. "A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, 1821-1931," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bord84-1, March.
    16. 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 971-87, December.
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