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Was the Great Depression a Low-Level Equilibrium?

  • John Dagsvik
  • Boyan Jovanovic

Was the Great Depression the outcome of a massive coordination failure? Or was it a unique equilibrium response to adverse shocks? More generally, do aggregates fluctuate partly because agents occasionally settle on inferior, low-level equilibria? These questions lie at the heart of the current disagreement over how one should view business cycles. This paper estimates an employment model with monetary and real shocks. In one region of the parameter-space the model yields uniqueness, while in the other it yields up to three equilibria. When more than one equilibrium exists, a selection rule is needed. The equilibrium selection rule that we use has a Markovian structure, but the money supply is denied a coordination role -- it can not affect the choice of the equilibrium point. The global maximum likelihood estimates lie in the uniqueness region, implying that instead of being a low-level, coordination-failure equilibrium, the Depression era was caused by movements in fundamentals only. This result held for each of the three subperiods (since 1900) for which the estimation was done, but the estimates are imprecise and the conclusions that we draw from them are tentative. The paper also computes the local maxima in the region of multiplicity, and here some of our estimates indicate that the years 1932 and 1933 would have exhibited low level equilibria had more than one equilibrium existed.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3726.

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Date of creation: Jun 1991
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Publication status: published as European Economic Review, vol 38, (1994) pp. 1711-1729 (December 1994).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3726
Note: EFG
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  1. Jovanovic, Boyan, 1989. "Observable Implications of Models with Multiple Equilibria," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(6), pages 1431-37, November.
  2. Kiefer, Nicholas M, 1978. "Discrete Parameter Variation: Efficient Estimation of a Switching Regression Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(2), pages 427-34, March.
  3. Edward C. Prescott, 1986. "Theory ahead of business cycle measurement," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall, pages 9-22.
  4. Jovanovic, Boyan, 1986. "Micro Shocks and Aggregate Risks," Working Papers 86-14, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  5. Murphy, Kevin M & Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1989. "Industrialization and the Big Push," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1003-26, October.
  6. Diamond, Peter A, 1982. "Aggregate Demand Management in Search Equilibrium," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(5), pages 881-94, October.
  7. Gallant, A. Ronald, 1977. "Three-stage least-squares estimation for a system of simultaneous, nonlinear, implicit equations," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 71-88, January.
  8. Cogan, John F, 1981. "Fixed Costs and Labor Supply," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(4), pages 945-63, June.
  9. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1988. "On the mechanics of economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 3-42, July.
  10. Shleifer, Andrei, 1986. "Implementation Cycles," Scholarly Articles 3451303, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  11. Robert E. Hall, 1989. "Temporal Agglomeration," NBER Working Papers 3143, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Bruce C. Greenwald & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1988. "Examining Alternative Macroeconomic Theories," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(1), pages 207-270.
  13. Amemiya, Takeshi, 1973. "Regression Analysis when the Dependent Variable is Truncated Normal," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 41(6), pages 997-1016, November.
  14. Hamilton, James D. & Whiteman, Charles H., 1985. "The observable implications of self-fulfilling expectations," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 353-373, November.
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