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Identifying Government Spending Shocks: It's All in the Timing

  • Valerie A. Ramey

Do shocks to government spending raise or lower consumption and real wages? Standard VAR identification approaches show a rise in these variables, whereas the Ramey-Shapiro narrative identification approach finds a fall. I show that a key difference in the approaches is the timing. Both professional forecasts and the narrative approach shocks Granger-cause the VAR shocks, implying that the VAR shocks are missing the timing of the news. Simulations from a standard neoclassical model in which government spending is anticipated by several quarters demonstrate that VARs estimated with faulty timing can produce a rise in consumption even when it decreases in the model. Motivated by the importance of measuring anticipations, I construct two new variables that measure anticipations. The first is based on narrative evidence that is much richer than the Ramey-Shapiro military dates and covers 1939 to 2008. The second is from the Survey of Professional Forecasters, and covers the period 1969 to 2008. All news measures suggest that most components of consumption fall after a positive shock to government spending. The implied government spending multipliers range from 0.6 to 1.1.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15464.

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Date of creation: Oct 2009
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Publication status: published as Valerie A. Ramey, 2011. "Identifying Government Spending Shocks: It's all in the Timing," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(1), pages 1-50.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15464
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