Payment Uncertainty, the Division of Labor, and Productivity Declines in Great Depressions

Author Name KOBAYASHI Keiichiro  (Fellow, RIETI)
Creation Date/NO. December 2004 04-E-037
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This paper proposes a simple model that formalizes a variant of Ohanian's (2001) conjecture explaining the productivity declines observed in the Great Depression. If a large payment shock like an asset-price collapse renders many firms insolvent, other economic agents become exposed to a higher risk of not being paid (payment uncertainty). The payment uncertainty causes endogenous disruptions of the division of labor among firms, thereby lowering macroeconomic productivity. The prediction of the model is that productivity correlates negatively with bankruptcies and positively with the cost share of intermediate inputs, which is consistent with the data from depression episodes. The model implies that the so-called failure of macroeconomic policy in the United States during the early 1930s, when a rash of bankruptcies occurred, could actually have been welfare enhancing, since the quick exit of insolvent agents can resolve payment uncertainty quickly.

Published: Keiichiro Kobayashi, 2006. "Payment uncertainty, the division of labor, and productivity declines in great depressions," Review of Economic Dynamics, Vol. 9(4), pp. 715-741.