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The End of the Great Depression 1939-41: Policy Contributions and Fiscal Multipliers

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  • Robert J. Gordon
  • Robert Krenn

Abstract

This paper is about the size of fiscal multipliers and the sources of recovery from the Great Depression. Its baseline result is that 89.1 percent of the 1939:Q1-1941:Q4 recovery can be attributed to fiscal policy innovations, 34.1 percent to monetary policy innovations and the remaining -23.2 percent to the combined effect of the basic VAR dynamic forecast and innovations in non-government components of GDP. Traditional Keynesian multipliers assume that there are no capacity constraints to impede a fiscal-driven expansion in aggregate demand. On the contrary, we find ample evidence of capacity constraints in 1941, particularly in the second half of that year. As a result our preferred government spending multiplier is 1.80 when the time period ends in 1941:Q2 but only 0.88 when the time period ends in supply-constrained 1941:Q4. Only the 1.80 multiplier is relevant to situations like 2009-10 when capacity constraints are absent across the economy. Two sets of new insights emerge from a review of contemporary print media. We document that the American economy went to war starting in June 1940, fully 18 months before Pearl Harbor. We also detail the bifurcated nature of the 1941 economy, with excess capacity in its labor market but capacity constraints in many of the key manufacturing industries. By July 1941, the American economy was in a state of perceived national emergency.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. Gordon & Robert Krenn, 2010. "The End of the Great Depression 1939-41: Policy Contributions and Fiscal Multipliers," NBER Working Papers 16380, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16380
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Gauti B. Eggertsson, 2008. "Great Expectations and the End of the Depression," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1476-1516, September.
    3. Lawrence Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum & Sergio Rebelo, 2011. "When Is the Government Spending Multiplier Large?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 119(1), pages 78-121.
    4. Robert E. Hall, 2009. "By How Much Does GDP Rise If the Government Buys More Output?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 40(2 (Fall)), pages 183-249.
    5. Litterman, Robert B, 1983. "A Random Walk, Markov Model for the Distribution of Time Series," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 1(2), pages 169-173, April.
    6. Litterman, Robert B, 1983. "A Random Walk, Markov Model for the Distribution of Time Series," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 1(2), pages 169-173, April.
    7. 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.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E01 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
    • E2 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment
    • E22 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Investment; Capital; Intangible Capital; Capacity
    • E5 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • N42 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N62 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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