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Deflation and the international Great Depression: a productivity puzzle

Listed author(s):
  • 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
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:356
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  1. Fabrizio Perri & Vincenzo Quadrini, 2002. "The Great Depression in Italy: Trade Restrictions and Real Wage Rigidities," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 5(1), pages 128-151, January.
  2. Gary Solon & Robert Barsky & Jonathan A. Parker, 1994. "Measuring the Cyclicality of Real Wages: How Important is Composition Bias?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(1), pages 1-25.
  3. 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.
  4. Ben S. Bernanke & Kevin Carey, 1996. "Nominal Wage Stickiness and Aggregate Supply in the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 5439, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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 439-459, June.
  6. Lawrence J. Christiano & Roberto Motto & Massimo Rostagno, 2003. "The Great Depression and the Friedman-Schwartz hypothesis," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, pages 1119-1215.
  7. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1982. "Time to Build and Aggregate Fluctuations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(6), pages 1345-1370, November.
  8. Christopher J. Erceg & Michael D. Bordo & Charles L. Evans, 2000. "Money, Sticky Wages, and the Great Depression," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1447-1463, December.
  9. V. V. Chari & Patrick J. Kehoe & Ellen R. McGrattan, 2007. "Business Cycle Accounting," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(3), pages 781-836, 05.
  10. Lawrence J. Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum & Charles L. Evans, 2005. "Nominal Rigidities and the Dynamic Effects of a Shock to Monetary Policy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(1), pages 1-45, February.
  11. 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.
  12. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1972. "Expectations and the neutrality of money," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 103-124, April.
  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. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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 565-574, November.
  17. Pedro Amaral & James C. MacGee, 2002. "The Great Depression in Canada and the United States: A Neoclassical Perspective," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 5(1), pages 45-72, January.
  18. Ben S. Bernanke & Kevin Carey, 1996. "Nominal Wage Stickiness and Aggregate Supply in the Great Depression," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(3), pages 853-883.
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