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A Traffic Jam Theory of Recessions


  • Jennifer La'O

    (University of Chicago)


I construct a dynamic economy in which agents are interconnected: the output produced by one agent is the consumption good of another. I show that this economy can generate recessions which resemble traffic jams. At the micro level, each individual agent waits for his own income to increase before he increases his spending. However, his spending behavior affects the income of another agent. Thus, the spending behavior of agents during recessions resembles the stop-and-go behavior of vehicles during traffic jams. Furthermore, these traffic jam recessions are not caused by large aggregate shocks. Instead, in certain parts of the parameter space, a small pertubation or individual shock is amplified as its impact cascades from one agent to another. These dynamics eventually result in a stable recessionary equilibrium in which aggregate output, consumption, and employment remain low for many periods. Thus, much like in traffic james, agents cannot identify any large exogenous shock that caused the recession. Finally, I provide conditions under which these traffic jam recessions are most likely to occur.

Suggested Citation

  • Jennifer La'O, 2013. "A Traffic Jam Theory of Recessions," 2013 Meeting Papers 412, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed013:412

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Vasco M. Carvalho, 2014. "From Micro to Macro via Production Networks," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(4), pages 23-48, Fall.

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