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Has Economic Policy Uncertainty Hampered the Recovery?

Author

Listed:
  • Scott Baker

    (Washington University in St. Louis)

  • Nicholas Bloom

    (Stanford University)

  • Steven J. Davis

    (University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Hoover Institution)

Abstract

The U.S. economy hit bottom in June 2009. Thirty months later, output growth remains sluggish and unemployment still hovers above 8%. A critical question is why. One view attributes the weak recovery, at least in part, to high levels of uncertainty about economic policy. This view entails two claims: First, that policy uncertainty is unusually high in recent years. Second, that high levels of policy uncertainty caused households and businesses to hold back significantly on spending, investment and hiring. We take a look at both claims in this article. We start by considering an index of economic policy uncertainty developed in Baker, Bloom and Davis (2012). Figure 1, which plots our index, indicates that economic policy uncertainty fluctuates strongly over time. The index shows historically high levels of economic policy uncertainty in the last four years. It reached an all-time peak in August 2011. As discussed below, we also find evidence that policy concerns account for an unusually high share of overall economic uncertainty in recent years. Moreover, short-term movements in overall economic uncertainty more closely track movements in policy-related uncertainty in the past decade than earlier. In short, our analysis provides considerable support for the first claim of the policy uncertainty view. The second claim is harder to assess because it raises difficult issues of what causes what. We do not provide a definitive analysis of the second claim. Nevertheless, our evidence suggests that policy uncertainty can damage the economy, and that high levels of policy uncertainty have been an important factor hampering the recovery. We find evidence that increases in economic policy uncertainty foreshadow declines in output, employment and investment. While we cannot say that economic policy uncertainty necessarily causes these negative developments – since many factors move together in the economy – we can say with some confidence that high levels of policy uncertainty are associated with weaker growth prospects.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott Baker & Nicholas Bloom & Steven J. Davis, 2012. "Has Economic Policy Uncertainty Hampered the Recovery?," Working Papers 2012-003, Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:bfi:wpaper:2012-003
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Pástor, Ľuboš & Veronesi, Pietro, 2013. "Political uncertainty and risk premia," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(3), pages 520-545.
    2. Panousi, Vasia & Papanikolaou, Dimitris, 2009. "Investment, idiosyncratic risk, and ownership," MPRA Paper 24239, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Comment expliquer la faiblesse de la reprise ?
      by Martin Anota in D'un champ l'autre on 2015-02-17 02:16:01

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    1. repec:spr:soinre:v:137:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s11205-017-1609-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Vivek Ghosal & Yang Ye, 2015. "Uncertainty and the employment dynamics of small and large businesses," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 44(3), pages 529-558, March.
    3. Handley, Kyle & Limão, Nuno, 2013. "Policy Uncertainty, Trade and Welfare: Theory and Evidence for China and the U.S," CEPR Discussion Papers 9615, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Sojli, Elvira & Tham, Wing Wah, 2015. "Divided governments and futures prices," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 187(2), pages 622-633.
    5. Paraskevi Salamaliki, 2015. "Economic Policy Uncertainty and Economic Activity: A Focus on Infrequent Structural Shifts," Working Paper Series of the Department of Economics, University of Konstanz 2015-08, Department of Economics, University of Konstanz.
    6. Bjørnskov, Christian, 2016. "Economic freedom and economic crises," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 45(S), pages 11-23.
    7. William Gavin & Benjamin Keen, 2013. "U.S. Monetary Policy: A View from Macro Theory," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 24(1), pages 33-49, February.
    8. Matthes, Christian & Hollmayr, Josef, 2015. "Tales of Transition Paths: Policy Uncertainty and Random Walks," Working Paper 15-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
    9. Cai, Yifei, 2016. "短期资本流动、经济政策不确定性与恐慌指数—基于时变分析框架下的研究
      [Short-term Capital Flow, Economic Policy Uncertainty and VIX—Evidence from a Time-varying Analysis Framework]
      ," MPRA Paper 73213, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Hollmayr, Josef & Matthes, Christian, 2015. "Learning about fiscal policy and the effects of policy uncertainty," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 142-162.
    11. Maritta Paloviita & Matti Viren, 2014. "Inflation and output growth uncertainty in individual survey expectations," Empirica, Springer;Austrian Institute for Economic Research;Austrian Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 69-81, February.
    12. He, Yinghua & Nielsson, Ulf & Wang, Yonglei, 2017. "Hurting without hitting: The economic cost of political tension," Journal of International Financial Markets, Institutions and Money, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 106-124.
    13. Vivek Ghosal & Yang Ye, 2013. "Business Decision-Making under Uncertainty: Evidence from Employment and Number of Businesses," CESifo Working Paper Series 4312, CESifo Group Munich.
    14. Prüser, Jan & Schlösser, Alexander, 2017. "The effects of economic policy uncertainty on European economies: Evidence from a TVP-FAVAR," Ruhr Economic Papers 708, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    15. Christian Bjørnskov, 2014. "Do Economic Reforms Alleviate Subjective Well-Being Losses of Economic Crises?," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 163-182, February.
    16. repec:eee:ejores:v:265:y:2018:i:2:p:685-702 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Giampietro, Marta & Guidolin, Massimo & Pedio, Manuela, 2018. "Estimating stochastic discount factor models with hidden regimes: Applications to commodity pricing," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 265(2), pages 685-702.
    18. Marta Giampietro & Massimo Guidolin & Manuela Pedio, 2015. "Can No-Arbitrage SDF Models with Regime Shifts Explain the Correlations Between Commodity, Stock, and Bond Returns?," BAFFI CAREFIN Working Papers 1619, BAFFI CAREFIN, Centre for Applied Research on International Markets Banking Finance and Regulation, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    policy uncertainty index; news-based uncertainty measure; tax-code expirations; forecaster disagreement; slow recovery;

    JEL classification:

    • E60 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - General
    • C43 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Index Numbers and Aggregation

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