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Uncertain Times, Uncertain Measures


  • Jon Cohen

    (University of Toronto)

  • Michelle Alexopoulos

    (University of Toronto)


Are uncertainty shocks an important source of post WWII business cycle fluctuations? The evidence we present in this paper suggests they are. Using both the traditional measure of uncertainty – the stock market volatility index – and a new one - based on the number of New York Times’ articles on uncertainty and economic activity - we demonstrate that these shocks generate short sharp recessions and recoveries. Output, employment, productivity, consumption and investment all decrease in response to an unanticipated rise in uncertainty. Moreover, we find that wide spread changes in the level of uncertainty captured by our new newspaper index can account for between 10 and 25 percent of the short-run variation in these variables.

Suggested Citation

  • Jon Cohen & Michelle Alexopoulos, 2009. "Uncertain Times, Uncertain Measures," 2009 Meeting Papers 1211, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed009:1211

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ben S. Bernanke, 1983. "Irreversibility, Uncertainty, and Cyclical Investment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(1), pages 85-106.
    2. Olivier Blanchard & Roberto Perotti, 2002. "An Empirical Characterization of the Dynamic Effects of Changes in Government Spending and Taxes on Output," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1329-1368.
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    JEL classification:

    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • E2 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment
    • C82 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Methodology for Collecting, Estimating, and Organizing Macroeconomic Data; Data Access


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