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Depression Econometrics: A FAVAR Model of Monetary Policy During the Great Depression

  • Pooyan Amir Ahmadi
  • Albrecht Ritschl

The prominent role of monetary policy in the U.S. interwar depression has been conventional wisdom since Friedman and Schwartz [1963]. This paper presents evidence on both the surprise and the systematic components of monetary policy between 1929 and 1933. Doubts surrounding GDP estimates for the 1920s would call into question conventional VAR techniques. We therefore adopt the FAVAR methodology of Bernanke, Boivin, and Eliasz [2005], aggregating a large number of time series into a few factors and inserting these into a monetary policy VAR. We work in a Bayesian framework and apply MCMC methods to obtain the posteriors. Employing the generalized sign restriction approach toward identification of Amir Ahmadi and Uhlig [2008], we find the effects of monetary policy shocks to have been moderate. To analyze the systematic policy component, we back out the monetary policy reaction function and its response to aggregate supply and demand shocks. Results broadly confirm the Friedman/Schwartz view about restrictive monetary policy, but indicate only moderate effects. We further analyze systematic policy through conditional forecasts of key time series at critical junctures, taken with and without the policy instrument. Effects are again quite moderate. Our results caution against a predominantly monetary interpretation of the Great Depression.

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Paper provided by Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany in its series SFB 649 Discussion Papers with number SFB649DP2009-054.

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Length: 68 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hum:wpaper:sfb649dp2009-054
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  1. James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 2005. "Implications of Dynamic Factor Models for VAR Analysis," NBER Working Papers 11467, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  3. Christiano, Lawrence & Motto, Roberto & Rostagno, Massimo, 2004. "The Great Depression and the Friedman-Schwartz hypothesis," Working Paper Series 0326, European Central Bank.
  4. Bernanke, Ben S. & Boivin, Jean, 2003. "Monetary policy in a data-rich environment," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 525-546, April.
  5. Michael D. Bordo & Christopher J. Erceg & Charles L. Evans, 1997. "Money, Sticky Wages, and the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 6071, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Eric M. Leeper & Christopher A. Sims & Tao Zha, 1996. "What Does Monetary Policy Do?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 27(2), pages 1-78.
  7. Kadiyala, K. Rao & Karlsson, Sune, 1994. "Numerical Aspects of Bayesian VAR-modeling," SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 12, Stockholm School of Economics.
  8. Peter Temin, 1991. "Lessons from the Great Depression," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262700441, June.
  9. Ben S. Bernanke & Jean Boivin & Piotr Eliasz, 2004. "Measuring the effects of monetary policy: a factor-augmented vector autoregressive (FAVAR) approach," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2004-03, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  10. Ritschl, Albrecht & Woitek, Ulrich, 2000. "Did Monetary Forces Cause the Great Depression?," CEPR Discussion Papers 2547, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian, 2004. "New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(4), pages 779-816, August.
  12. Dominguez, Kathryn M & Fair, Ray C & Shapiro, Matthew D, 1988. "Forecasting the Depression: Harvard versus Yale," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 595-612, September.
  13. Harrison, Sharon G. & Weder, Mark, 2006. "Did sunspot forces cause the Great Depression?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(7), pages 1327-1339, October.
  14. Uhlig, Harald, 1999. "What are the Effects of Monetary Policy on Output? Results from an Agnostic Identification Procedure," CEPR Discussion Papers 2137, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  15. Hamilton, James D., 1987. "Monetary factors in the great depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 145-169, March.
  16. Hamilton, James D, 1992. "Was the Deflation during the Great Depression Anticipated? Evidence from the Commodity Futures Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 157-78, March.
  17. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian & Ron Leung, 2005. "Deflation and the international Great Depression: a productivity puzzle," Staff Report 356, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  18. Monique Ebell & Albrecht Ritschl, 2007. "Real Origins of the Great Depression: Monopolistic Competition, Union Power, and the American Business Cycle in the 1920s," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2007-006, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
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