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The Estimation of Prewar GNP Volatility, 1869-1938

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  • Nathan S. Balke
  • Robert J. Gordon

Abstract

New evidence is provided to assess the recent controversy regarding the volatility of real economic activity before 1929 relative to the period since World War II. Some recent work claims that the longstanding stylized fact of greater prewar volatility is "spurious". In contrast, this paper reconfirms the greater amplitude of business fluctuations prior to the Great Depression. The basic technique is the regression method, which estimates equations for real GNP during 1909-38, with one or more explanatory variables for components of GNP, and then uses the estimated coefficients to "backcast" real GNP or the period 1869-1908. The paper contains an extensive examination of the sensitivity of these regression indexes to alternative dependent variables, sample periods, detrending methods, and the inclusion of alternative explanatory variables. Particular attention is paid to the conflicting evidence regarding the amplitude of cycles in construction activity between 1870 and 1890. The resulting prewar/postwar volatility ratios, for 1869-1928 as compared to 1950-1980, range from 1.43 to 2.16. The paper concludes by suggesting that this range of volatility ratios is more likely to understate than overstate the prewar/postwar volatility ratio.

Suggested Citation

  • Nathan S. Balke & Robert J. Gordon, 1986. "The Estimation of Prewar GNP Volatility, 1869-1938," NBER Working Papers 1999, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1999
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1961. "Capital in the American Economy: Its Formation and Financing," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn61-1, May.
    2. John B. Taylor, 1986. "Improvements in Macroeconomic Stability: The Role of Wages and Prices," NBER Chapters, in: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change, pages 639-678, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Moses Abramovitz, 1964. "Evidences of Long Swings in Aggregate Construction Since the Civil War," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number abra64-1, May.
    4. Robert J. Gordon & James A. Wilcox, 1978. "Monetarist Interpretations of the Great Depression: An Evaluation and Critique," NBER Working Papers 0300, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

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    2. B. Douglas Bernheim & Lorenzo Forni & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2001. "The mismatch between life insurance holdings and financial vulnerabilities: evidence from the Health and Retirement Survey," Working Papers (Old Series) 0109, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
    3. Sadequl ISLAM, 2011. "The Economic Effects On Nafta Of Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreements," Applied Econometrics and International Development, Euro-American Association of Economic Development, vol. 11(1).
    4. Claudia Goldin, 1999. "A Brief History of Education in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0119, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. B. Douglas Bernheim, 2000. "How Much Should Americans Be Saving for Retirement?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 288-292, May.
    6. Opening Speech, 2011. "Bubbles, Demographic Change and Natural Disasters," Monetary and Economic Studies, Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, Bank of Japan, vol. 29, pages 19-32, November.
    7. B. Douglas Bernheim & Katherine Grace Carman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2001. "The Mismatch Between Life Insurance Holdings and Financial Vulnerabilities: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," NBER Working Papers 8544, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. B. Douglas Bernheim & Lorenzo Forni & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "The adequacy of life insurance: evidence from the health and retirement survey," Working Papers (Old Series) 9914, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
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    10. Runchana Pongsaparn & Panda Ketruangroch & Dhanaporn Hirunwong, 2012. "Monetary Policy conduct in Review: The Appropriate Choice of Instruments," Working Papers 2012-05, Monetary Policy Group, Bank of Thailand.

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