David Jacks, Martin Stuermer, 07 December 2018

There is a lack of consensus on the importance of various drivers of long-run commodity prices. This column analyses a new dataset of prices and production for 15 commodities, including metals, agricultural goods, and soft commodities, between 1870 and 2015. Demand shocks due to rapid industrialisation and urbanisation have driven a substantial amount of variation in commodity price booms. While demand shocks have gained importance over time, commodity supply shocks have become less relevant. 

Patrice Baubeau, Eric Monnet, Angelo Riva, Stefano Ungaro, 29 November 2018

Previous research has downplayed the role of banking panics and financial factors in the French Great Depression. This column uses a newly assembled dataset of balance sheets for more than 400 French banks from the interwar period to challenge this long-held idea. The empirical results show two dramatic waves of panic in 1930 and 1931, and point to a flight-to-safety mechanism. The findings illustrate how minor macroeconomic assumptions and extrapolations on monetary statistics can introduce large, persistent biases in historiography.

Nikolaus Wolf, 11 June 2018

Riccardo De Bonis, Giuseppe Marinelli, Francesco Vercelli, 16 April 2018

There is no consensus on how to measure competition in the banking system, though the 'Boone indicator' of profit elasticity with respect to marginal costs has recently provided reliable results. This column uses a dataset of 125 years of bank balance sheets to calculate this indicator for the Italian banking system. It shows that regulatory changes have driven bank competition, an insight that is supported by other indicators.

Andrew Fieldhouse, Karel Mertens, Morten Ravn, 02 May 2017

Despite the significant role of housing government-sponsored enterprises in the US mortgage markets, their activities have not been subject to much scrutiny by macroeconomists. Using a monthly sample covering 40 years, this column asks how portfolio mortgage purchase activities have affected the availability of housing credit and key aggregate variables. The results indicate a key role for the agencies in shaping the US economy, as well as significant interactions and similarities between housing credit policies and conventional monetary policy.

Michael Bordo, Arunima Sinha, 20 November 2016

In the wake of the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve took unprecedented measures to stem economic decline. This column uses the Fed’s open-market operations in 1932, another period of short-term rates near the zero lower bound, as a comparison for the QE1 operation of 2008-09. Although the 1932 policy boosted output and inflation, if the Fed had announced the operation in advance and carried it out for a full year, the Great Depression could have been attenuated considerably earlier.

Martín Gonzalez-Eiras, Dirk Niepelt, 11 October 2016

The US fiscal system underwent a radical transformation in the 1930s. This column proposes a micro-founded general equilibrium model that blends politics and macroeconomics to explain the transformation. It rationalises tax centralisation and intergovernmental grants as the equilibrium response to the Sixteenth Amendment, which introduced federal taxation. The theory can also be used to forecast federal and regional taxes and government spending.

Peter Lindert, Jeffrey Williamson, 16 June 2016

Americans have long debated when the country became the world’s economic leader, when it became so unequal, and how inequality and growth might be linked.  Yet those debates have lacked the quantitative evidence needed to choose between competing views. This column introduces evidence on American incomes per capita and inequality for two centuries before World War I. American history suggests that inequality is not driven by some fundamental law of capitalist development, but rather by episodic shifts in five basic forces: demography, education policy, trade competition, financial regulation policy, and labour-saving technological change.

Kris Mitchener, Gary Richardson, 28 May 2016

The Global Crisis emphasised the fragility of international financial networks. Despite this, there has been little historical research into how networks propagate financial shocks. This column explores how interbank networks transmitted liquidity shocks through the US banking system during the Great Depression. During banking panics, the pyramided-structure of reserves forced troubled banks to reduce lending, thus amplifying the decline in investment spending. 

Miguel Morin, 16 April 2016

A longstanding question in economics is whether labour-saving technology affects firms in the medium term by increasing output, by decreasing employment, or both. This column provides evidence on this issue using a novel dataset from the concrete industry during the Great Depression. Cheaper electricity caused a decrease in the labour share of income, an increase in productivity and electrical capital intensity, and a decrease in employment. Furthermore, these effects were stronger in counties where the Depression hit hardest, consistent with the idea of ‘the cleansing effect of recessions’.

Giovanni Federico, Antonio Tena-Junguito, 07 February 2016

Parallels are often drawn between the Great Recession of the past decade and the economic turmoil of the interwar period. In terms of global trade, these comparisons are based on obsolete and incomplete data. This column re-estimates world trade since the beginning of the 19th century using a new database. The effect of the Great Recession on trade growth is sizeable but fairly small compared with the joint effect of the two world wars and the Great Depression. However, the effects will become more and more comparable if the current trade stagnation continues.

Gerben Bakker, Nicholas Crafts, Pieter Woltjer, 05 February 2016

The Great Depression is considered one of the darkest times for the US economy, but some argue that the US economy experienced strong productivity growth over the period. This column reassesses this performance using improved measures of total factor productivity that allow for comparisons of productivity growth in the Depression era and in later decades. Contrary to Alvin Hansen’s gloomy prognosis of secular stagnation, the US economy was in a very strong position during the 1930s by today’s standards.

Jonathan Ashworth, Charles Goodhart, 28 April 2015

When panic strikes, people tend to withdraw cash. While there were upticks in currency-to-deposit ratios in the autumn of 2008 and early 2009, they were modest and very short-lived compared to the Great Depression. This column argues that leading central banks learnt from the 1930s mistakes and acted decisively to check the panic. Key policies were the existence and upgrading of deposit insurance schemes, massive liquidity injections, and rapid cutting of interest rates. The most important were the guarantees that the biggest banks wouldn’t fail.

Francesco Bianchi, 22 April 2015

During the Great Recession, the possibility that the US might enter a second Great Depression was a real concern. This column argues that until early 2009, financial markets behaved in a manner consistent with the early years of the Great Depression. The large stock-market fall saw growth stocks outperforming value stocks. This pattern ended March 2009, arguably in light of robust policy interventions. These dynamics suggest that poor performance of growth stocks during regular times may be compensated by superior performance in crises.

David Chambers, Elroy Dimson, 20 October 2014

Yale University has generated annual returns of 13.9% over the last 20 years on its endowment – well in excess of the 9.2% average return on US university endowments. Keynes’ writings were a considerable influence on the investment philosophy of David Swensen, Yale’s CIO. This column traces how Keynes’ experiences managing his Cambridge college endowment influenced his ideas, and sheds light on how some of the lessons he learnt are still relevant to endowments and foundations today.

Hugh Rockoff, 04 October 2014

World War I profoundly altered the structure of the US economy and its role in the world economy. However, this column argues that the US learnt the wrong lessons from the war, partly because a halo of victory surrounded wartime policies and personalities. The methods used for dealing with shortages during the war were simply inappropriate for dealing with the Great Depression, and American isolationism in the 1930s had devastating consequences for world peace.

Michael Bordo, 21 March 2014

Since 2007, there has been a buildup of TARGET imbalances within the Eurosystem – growing liabilities of national central banks in the periphery matched by growing claims of central banks in the core. This column argues that, rather than signalling the collapse of the monetary system – as was the case for Bretton Woods between 1968 and 1971 – these TARGET imbalances represent a successful institutional innovation that prevented a repeat of the US payments crisis of 1933.

Jeffrey Frankel, 29 January 2013

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of US federal income tax and the establishment of the Federal Reserve. What lessons have we learnt about macroeconomic policy since then? This column assesses the postwar lessons and argues that fiscal expansion is much more likely to be effective in the short term than any monetary expansion stimulus. Indeed, compared with fiscal policy, monetary policy seems more alchemy than science.

Henry Siu, Nir Jaimovich, 06 November 2012

The US economy is recovering. But what explains the stubborn malaise in its labour market? This column argues that future recovery from recession will likely be jobless because technological advances and mechanisation now enable troubled firms to shed middle-income jobs in favour of machines and automation. If these jobs are not recouped during subsequent economic recovery, future recoveries may well remain jobless.

Bradford DeLong, Barry Eichengreen, 12 June 2012

Charles Kindleberger’s classic book on the Great Depression was originally published 40 years ago. In the preface to a new edition, two leading economists argue that the lessons are as relevant as ever.

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