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Did Monetary Forces Cause the Great Depression? A Bayesian VAR Analysis for the U.S. Economy

  • Albrecht Ritschl
  • Ulrich Woitek

This paper recasts Temin's (1976) question of whether monetary forces caused the Great Depression in a modern time series framework. We analyze money-income causalities and predict U.S. output in a recursive Bayesian framework, allowing for information updating and time-varying coefficients. The predictive power of money aggregates and the Fed discount rate is in general very weak and collapses after the crisis of the gold standard in 1931. In contrast, non-monetary variables, particularly leading indicators of residential construction and equipment investment, have impressive forecasting power, forecasting almost half the output decline already in mid-1929. Our recursive framework also allows to examine the stability of our estimated dynamic parameters. Recursive estimates of the monetary impulse responses exhibit remarkable structural instability and strongly react to monetary regime changes during the depression. This phenomenon is discomforting in the light of the Lucas (1976) critique, as it suggests that the money/income relationship may be endogenous to policy and was not in the set of deep parameters of the U.S. economy. Given the instability and poor predictive power of monetary instruments and the strong showing of leading indicators of real activity, we remain skeptical about a monetary interpretation of the Great Depression in the U.S.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 050.

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  1. Uhlig, Harald, 1994. "What Macroeconomists Should Know about Unit Roots: A Bayesian Perspective," Econometric Theory, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(3-4), pages 645-671, August.
  2. Christopher A. Sims & Harald Uhlig, 1988. "Understanding unit rooters: a helicopter tour," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 4, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  3. Klug, Adam & Landon-Lane, John S. & White, Eugene N., 2005. "How could everyone have been so wrong? Forecasting the Great Depression with the railroads," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 27-55, January.
  4. repec:cup:etheor:v:10:y:1994:i:3-4:p:645-71 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. Temin, Peter & Wigmore, Barrie A., 1990. "The end of one big deflation," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 483-502, October.
  6. Dominguez, Kathryn M & Fair, Ray C & Shapiro, Matthew D, 1988. "Forecasting the Depression: Harvard versus Yale," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 595-612, September.
  7. Hamilton, James D., 1987. "Monetary factors in the great depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 145-169, March.
  8. Hamilton, James D, 1992. "Was the Deflation during the Great Depression Anticipated? Evidence from the Commodity Futures Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 157-78, March.
  9. Robert J. Gordon & James A. Wilcox, 1978. "Monetarist Interpretations of the Great Depression: An Evaluation and Critique," NBER Working Papers 0300, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Evans, Martin & Wachtel, Paul, 1993. "Were price changes during the Great Depression anticipated? : Evidence from nominal interest rates," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 3-34, August.
  11. Thomas Doan & Robert B. Litterman & Christopher A. Sims, 1983. "Forecasting and Conditional Projection Using Realistic Prior Distributions," NBER Working Papers 1202, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Sims, Christopher A, 1980. "Macroeconomics and Reality," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(1), pages 1-48, January.
  13. Mayer, Thomas, 1978. "Money and the Great Depression: A critique of professor Temin's thesis," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 127-145, April.
  14. Nathan Balke & Robert J. Gordon, 1986. "Appendix B: Historical Data," NBER Chapters, in: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change, pages 781-850 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Ben S. Bernanke, 1983. "Non-Monetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in the Propagation of the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 1054, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Edward C. Prescott, 1999. "Some observations on the Great Depression," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Win, pages 25-29.
  17. Eric M. Leeper & Christopher A. Sims & Tao Zha, 1996. "What Does Monetary Policy Do?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 27(2), pages 1-78.
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