IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Has the Business Cycle Changed and Why?

  • James H. Stock
  • Mark W. Watson

From 1960-1983, the standard deviation of annual growth rates in real GDP in the United States was 2.7%. From 1984-2001, the corresponding standard deviation was 1.6%. This paper investigates this large drop in the cyclical volatility OF real economic.activity. The paper has two objectives. The first is to provide a comprehensive characterization of the decline in volatility using a large number of U.S. economic time series and a variety of methods designed to describe time-varying time series processes. In so doing, the paper reviews the literature on the moderation and attempts to resolve some of its disagreements and discrepancies. The second objective is to provide new evidence on the quantitative importance of various explanations for this 'great moderation.' Taken together, we estimate that the moderation in volatility is attributable to a combination of improved policy (20-30%), identifiable good luck in the form of productivity and commodity price shocks (20-30%), and other unknown forms of good luck that manifest themselves as smaller reduced-form forecast errors (40-60%).

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9127.

in new window

Date of creation: Aug 2002
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Has the Business Cycle Changed and Why? , James H. Stock, Mark W. Watson. in NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2002, Volume 17 , Gertler and Rogoff. 2003
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9127
Note: EFG ME
Contact details of provider: Postal:
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.

Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Galí, Jordi & Lopez-Salido, Jose David & Vallés Liberal, Javier, 2002. "Technology Shocks and Monetary Policy: Assessing the Fed's Performance," CEPR Discussion Papers 3211, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Donald W.K. Andrews, 1990. "Tests for Parameter Instability and Structural Change with Unknown Change Point," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 943, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  3. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald & Miles S. Kimball, 1998. "Are technology improvements contractionary?," International Finance Discussion Papers 625, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. Kraay, Aart & Ventura, Jaume, 2001. "Comparative Advantage and the Cross-Section of Business Cycles," CEPR Discussion Papers 3000, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Lawrence J. Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum & Charles L. Evans, 1996. "Sticky price and limited participation models of money: a comparison," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues WP-96-28, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  6. Acemoglu, Daron & Zilibotti, Fabrizio, 1997. "Was Prometheus Unbound by Chance? Risk, Diversification, and Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(4), pages 709-51, August.
  7. Chang-Jin Kim & Charles R. Nelson & Jeremy M. Piger, 2001. "The less volatile U.S. economy: a Bayesian investigation of timing, breadth, and potential explanations," International Finance Discussion Papers 707, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Olivier Blanchard & John Simon, 2001. "The Long and Large Decline in U.S. Output Volatility," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 32(1), pages 135-174.
  9. Hansen, Bruce E., 2000. "Testing for structural change in conditional models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 97(1), pages 93-115, July.
  10. V. V. Chari & Lawrence J. Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum, 1996. "Expectation Traps and Discretion," NBER Working Papers 5541, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Timothy Cogley & Thomas J. Sargent, 2002. "Evolving Post-World War II U.S. Inflation Dynamics," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2001, Volume 16, pages 331-388 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Lawrence J. Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum & Charles L. Evans, 2001. "Nominal rigidities and the dynamic effects of a shock to monetary policy," Working Paper Series WP-01-08, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  13. Richard Clarida & Jordi Gali & Mark Gertler, 1998. "Monetary Policy Rules and Macroeconomic Stability: Evidence and Some Theory," NBER Working Papers 6442, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Mario Forni & Marc Hallin & Marco Lippi & Lucrezia Reichlin, 2000. "The Generalized Dynamic-Factor Model: Identification And Estimation," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 82(4), pages 540-554, November.
  15. Alan J. Auerbach & Daniel Feenberg, 2000. "The Significance of Federal Taxes as Automatic Stabilizers," NBER Working Papers 7662, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Hooker, Mark A., 1996. "What happened to the oil price-macroeconomy relationship?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 195-213, October.
  17. Marcelle Chauvet & Simon M. Potter, 2001. "Recent changes in the U.S. business cycle," Staff Reports 126, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  18. Erceg, Christopher J. & Henderson, Dale W. & Levin, Andrew T., 2000. "Optimal monetary policy with staggered wage and price contracts," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 281-313, October.
  19. Rudebusch, G.D., 1996. "Do Measures of Monetary Policy in a VAR Make Sense?," Papers 269, Banca Italia - Servizio di Studi.
  20. Gali, J., 1996. "Technology, Employment, and the Business Cycle: Do Technology Shocks Explain Aggregate Fluctuations?," Working Papers 96-28, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  21. Jonathan McCarthy & Richard Peach, 2002. "Monetary policy transmission to residential investment," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue May, pages 139-158.
  22. Julio J. Rotemberg & Michael Woodford, 1999. "Interest Rate Rules in an Estimated Sticky Price Model," NBER Chapters, in: Monetary Policy Rules, pages 57-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Glenn D. Rudebusch, 2002. "Assessing Nominal Income Rules for Monetary Policy with Model and Data Uncertainty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 402-432, April.
  24. Pivetta, Frederic & Reis, Ricardo, 2007. "The persistence of inflation in the United States," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 1326-1358, April.
  25. James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 1996. "Asymptotically Median Unbiased Estimation of Coefficient Variance in a Time Varying Parameter Model," NBER Technical Working Papers 0201, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  26. Jordi Galí & Mark Gertler, 1998. "Inflation dynamics: A structural econometric analysis," Economics Working Papers 341, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  27. Sensier, M. & van Dijk, D.J.C., 2001. "Short-term volatility versus long-term growth: evidence in US macroeconomic time series," Econometric Institute Research Papers EI 2001-11, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus School of Economics (ESE), Econometric Institute.
  28. Valerie A. Ramey & Kenneth D. West, 1997. "Inventories," NBER Working Papers 6315, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Ramey, Valerie A. & West, Kenneth D., 1999. "Inventories," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 13, pages 863-923 Elsevier.
  29. Marvin Goodfriend & Robert G. King, 1998. "The new neoclassical synthesis and the role of monetary policy," Working Paper 98-05, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
  30. Ben S. Bernanke & Ilian Mihov, 1998. "Measuring Monetary Policy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(3), pages 869-902.
  31. Fatas, Antonio & Mihov, Ilian, 2001. "Government size and automatic stabilizers: international and intranational evidence," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 3-28, October.
  32. Jushan Bai & Robin L. Lumsdaine & James H. Stock, 1998. "Testing For and Dating Common Breaks in Multivariate Time Series," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 65(3), pages 395-432.
  33. Julio Rotemberg & Michael Woodford, 1997. "An Optimization-Based Econometric Framework for the Evaluation of Monetary Policy," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1997, Volume 12, pages 297-361 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  34. Stock, James H. & Watson, Mark W., 1999. "Forecasting inflation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(2), pages 293-335, October.
  35. Hamilton, James D., 1996. "This is what happened to the oil price-macroeconomy relationship," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 215-220, October.
  36. Jean Boivin & Marc Giannoni, 2002. "Has monetary policy become less powerful?," Staff Reports 144, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  37. Olivier Jean Blanchard & Danny Quah, 1988. "The Dynamic Effects of Aggregate Demand and Supply Disturbance," Working papers 497, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  38. Jean Boivin & Marc Giannoni, 2002. "Assessing changes in the monetary transmission mechanism: a VAR approach," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue May, pages 97-111.
  39. Jushan Bai, 1997. "Estimation Of A Change Point In Multiple Regression Models," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(4), pages 551-563, November.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9127. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.