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Reassessing aggregate returns to scale with standard theory and measurement


  • Harold L. Cole
  • Lee E. Ohanian


Constant returns to scale is a central construct of neoclassical theory. Previous studies argued that one must adopt a specification of the production function with substantial unobserved service variation to reconcile constant returns with the data. Some economists have argued that this finding has not resolved the size of returns to scale, since factor service variation is unobserved, and there is no generally accepted theory to guide specification of this alternative framework. In this paper we show that the stochastic version of the neoclassical growth model delivers an orthogonality condition which can be used to estimate returns to scale. Rather than the standard finding of increasing returns, we show that standard theory and conventional measures of output and inputs yield estimates of constant returns to scale at the aggregate level. Our estimates also suggest that factor service variation is not an important determinant of output fluctuations.

Suggested Citation

  • Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian, 1996. "Reassessing aggregate returns to scale with standard theory and measurement," Working Papers 566, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmwp:566

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    5. Cox, David & Harris, Richard, 1985. "Trade Liberalization and Industrial Organization: Some Estimates for Canada," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(1), pages 115-145, February.
    6. Shoven, John B. & Whalley, John, 1972. "A general equilibrium calculation of the effects of differential taxation of income from capital in the U.S," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3-4), pages 281-321, November.
    7. Kenneth J. Arrow & Timothy J. Kehoe, 1994. "Distinguished Fellow: Herbert Scarf's Contributions to Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 161-181, Fall.
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    12. Herbert E. Scarf, 1967. "On the Computation of Equilibrium Prices," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 232, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
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    Cited by:

    1. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian, 1999. "Aggregate returns to scale: why measurement is imprecise," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Sum, pages 19-28.

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