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Wealth and Volatility

  • Fabrizio Perri

    (University of Minnesota)

  • Jonathan Heathcote

    (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis)

Periods of low household wealth in United States macroeconomic history have also been periods of high business cycle volatility. This paper develops a simple model that can exhibit self-fulfilling fluctuations in the expected path for unemployment. The novel feature is that the scope for sunspot-driven volatility depends on the level of household wealth. When wealth is high, consumer demand is largely insensitive to unemployment expectations and the economy is robust to confidence crises. When wealth is low, a stronger precautionary motive makes demand more sensitive to unemployment expectations, and the economy becomes vulnerable to confidence-driven fluctuations. In this case, there is a potential role for public policies to stabilize demand. Microeconomic evidence is consistent with the key model mechanism: during the Great Recession, consumers with relatively low wealth, ceteris paribus, cut expenditures more sharply.

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Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2013 Meeting Papers with number 385.

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Date of creation: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:red:sed013:385
Contact details of provider: Postal: Society for Economic Dynamics Christian Zimmermann Economic Research Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis PO Box 442 St. Louis MO 63166-0442 USA
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