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Deflation and the international Great Depression: a productivity puzzle

  • Harold L. Cole
  • Lee E. Ohanian
  • Ron Leung

This paper presents a dynamic, stochastic general equilibrium study of the causes of the international Great Depression. We use a fully articulated model to assess the relative contributions of deflation/monetary shocks, which are the most commonly cited shocks for the Depression, and productivity shocks. We find that productivity is the dominant shock, accounting for about 2/3 of the Depression, with the monetary shock accounting for about 1/3. The main reason deflation doesn't account for more of the Depression is because there is no systematic relationship between deflation and output during this period. Our finding that a persistent productivity shock is the key factor stands in contrast to the conventional view that a continuing sequence of unexpected deflation shocks was the major cause of the Depression. We also explore what factors might be causing the productivity shocks. We find some evidence that they are largely related to industrial activity, rather than agricultural activity, and that they are correlated with real exchange rates and non-deflationary shocks to the financial sector.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in its series Staff Report with number 356.

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Date of creation: 2005
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:356
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  1. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1972. "Expectations and the neutrality of money," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 103-124, April.
  2. V.V. Chari & Patrick J. Kehoe & Ellen McGrattan, 2004. "Business Cycle Accounting," NBER Working Papers 10351, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Christiano, Lawrence & Motto, Roberto & Rostagno, Massimo, 2004. "The Great Depression and the Friedman-Schwartz hypothesis," Working Paper Series 0326, European Central Bank.
  4. Fabrizio Perri & Vincenzo Quadrini, 2002. "Data Appendix to The Great Depression in Italy: Trade Restrictions and Real Wage Rigidities," Technical Appendices perri02, Review of Economic Dynamics.
  5. Pedro Amaral & James Macgee, 2002. "Data Appendix to The Great Depression in Canada and the United States: A Neoclassical Perspective," Technical Appendices amaral02, Review of Economic Dynamics.
  6. Crucini, Mario J. & Kahn, James, 1996. "Tariffs and aggregate economic activity: Lessons from the Great Depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 427-467, December.
  7. Michael D. Bordo & Christopher J. Erceg & Charles L. Evans, 1997. "Money, sticky wages, and the Great Depression," International Finance Discussion Papers 591, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. 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 439-59, June.
  9. Lawrence J. Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum & Charles Evans, 2001. "Nominal rigidities and the dynamic effects of a shock to monetary policy," Working Paper 0107, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  10. S. Rao Aiyagari, 1994. "On the contribution of technology shocks to business cycles," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Win, pages 22-34.
  11. Bernanke, Ben S & Carey, Kevin, 1996. "Nominal Wage Stickiness and Aggregate Supply in the Great Depression," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(3), pages 853-83, August.
  12. Ben Bernanke & Harold James, 1990. "The Gold Standard, Deflation, and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison," NBER Working Papers 3488, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Lee E. Ohanian, 2002. "Why did productivity fall so much during the Great Depression?," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Spr.
  14. Choudhri, Ehsan U & Kochin, Levis A, 1980. "The Exchange Rate and the International Transmission of Business Cycle Disturbances: Some Evidence from the Great Depression," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 12(4), pages 565-74, November.
  15. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1982. "Time to Build and Aggregate Fluctuations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(6), pages 1345-70, November.
  16. Solon, Gary & Barsky, Robert & Parker, Jonathan A, 1994. "Measuring the Cyclicality of Real Wages: How Important Is Composition Bias?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(1), pages 1-25, February.
  17. Field, Alexander J., 1984. "A New Interpretation of the Onset of the Great Depression," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 44(02), pages 489-498, June.
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