Modern business cycle theory focuses on the study of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models that generate aggregate fluctuations similar to those experienced by actual economies. We discuss how this theory has evolved from its roots in the early real business cycle models of the late 1970s through the turmoil of the Great Recession four decades later. We document the strikingly different pattern of comovements of macro aggregates during the Great Recession compared to other postwar recessions, especially the 1982 recession. We then show how two versions of the latest generation of real business cycle models can account, respectively, for the aggregate and the cross-regional fluctuations observed in the Great Recession in the United States.
The vast bulk of the government financial interventions during the Great Recession was directed at helping banks weather the financial crisis. The design of these programs was heavily influenced by the view that helping banks preserve their means of providing finance to firms was the most important ingredient in ensuring a quick recovery from the crisis. We argue that the cross-state patterns of employment, output and debt in the United States suggest that financial frictions that led to a tightening of credit to consumers were more important in accounting for the recession than those that led to a tightening of credit to firms. Our analysis implies that policies designed to ease consumer credit conditions would have been more effective at ensuring a rapid recovery than the policies actually adopted that focused on easing firm credit conditions.
Before the advent of sophisticated international financial markets, a widely accepted belief was that within a monetary union, a union-wide authority orchestrating fiscal transfers between countries is necessary to provide adequate insurance against country-specific economic fluctuations. A natural question is then: Do sophisticated international financial markets obviate the need for such an active union-wide authority? We argue that they do. Specifically, we show that in a benchmark economy with no international financial markets, an activist union-wide authority is necessary to achieve desirable outcomes. With sophisticated financial markets, however, such an authority is unnecessary if its only goal is to provide cross-country insurance. Since restricting the set of policy instruments available to member countries does not create a fiscal externality across them, this result holds in a wide variety of settings. Finally, we establish that an activist union-wide authority concerned just with providing insurance across member countries is optimal only when individual countries are either unable or unwilling to pursue desirable policies.
During the Great Recession, regions of the United States that experienced the largest declines in household debt also experienced the largest drops in consumption, employment, and wages. Employment declines were larger in the nontradable sector and for firms that were facing the worst credit conditions. Motivated by these findings, we develop a search and matching model with credit frictions that affect both consumers and firms. In the model, tighter debt constraints raise the cost of investing in new job vacancies and thus reduce worker job finding rates and employment. Two key features of our model, on-the-job human capital accumulation and consumer-side credit frictions, are critical to generating sizable drops in employment. On-the-job human capital accumulation makes the flows of benefits from posting vacancies long-lived and so greatly amplifies the sensitivity of such investments to credit frictions. Consumer-side credit frictions further magnify these effects by leading wages to fall only modestly. We show that the model reproduces well the salient cross-regional features of the U.S. data during the Great Recession.
We analyze commitment to employment in an environment in which an infinitely lived firm faces a sequence of finitely lived workers who differ in their ability to produce output. A worker’s ability is initially unknown to both the worker and the firm. A worker’s effort affects the information on ability conveyed by his performance. We characterize equilibria and show that they display commitment to employment only when effort has a persistent but delayed impact on output. In this case, by providing insurance against early termination, commitment to employment encourages workers to exert effort, thus improving the firm’s ability to identify workers’ talent. The incentive value of commitment to retention helps explain the use of probationary appointments in environments in which there is uncertainty about individual ability.
In order to analyze careers both within and across firms, this paper proposes a matching model of the labor market that extends existing models of job assignment and learning about workers’ abilities. The model accounts for worker mobility across jobs and firms, for varying degrees of generality of ability, and for the possibility that firms affect the information they acquire about workers through job assignment. I characterize equilibrium assignment and wages, and show how, depending on how abilities and jobs are distributed across firms, equilibrium gives rise to widely varying patterns of job mobility within firms and turnover across firms, even if matching would be perfectly assortative in the absence of uncertainty. The implied job and wage dynamics display features that are consistent with a broad set of empirical findings on careers in firms and the labor market. In particular, workers can experience gradual promotions and wage increases following successful performance but few or no demotions when employed by the same firm. The model also produces turnover across firms and occupations after both successful and unsuccessful experiences, leading to wage increases or decreases following a firm or occupation change. Overall, the results in this paper provide a unified framework in which to interpret the dynamics of jobs and wages in firms and the labor market.
This paper develops and structurally estimates a labor market model that integrates job assignment, learning, and human capital acquisition to account for the main patterns of careers in firms. A key innovation is that the model incorporates workers’ job mobility within and between firms, and the possibility that, through job assignment, firms affect the rate at which they acquire information about workers. The model is estimated using longitudinal administrative data on managers from one U.S. firm in a service industry (the data of Baker, Gibbs, and Holmström (1994a,b)) and fits the data remarkably well. The estimated model is used to assess both the direct effect of learning on wages and its indirect effect through its impact on the dynamics of job assignment. Consistent with the evidence in the literature on comparative advantage and learning, the estimated direct effect of learning on wages is found to be small. Unlike in previous work, by jointly estimating the dynamics of beliefs, jobs, and wages imposing all of the model restrictions, the impact of learning on job assignment can be uncovered and the indirect effect of learning on wages explicitly assessed. The key finding of the paper is that the indirect effect of learning on wages is substantial: overall learning accounts for one quarter of the cumulative wage growth on the job during the first seven years of tenure. Nearly all of the remaining growth is from human capital acquisition. A related novel finding is that the experimentation component of learning is a primary determinant of the timing of promotions and wage increases. Along with persistent uncertainty about ability, experimentation is responsible for substantially compressing wage growth at low tenures.
In this appendix I present details of the model and the empirical analysis, and results of counterfactual experiments omitted from the paper. In Section 1 I describe a simple example that illustrates how, even in the absence of human capital acquisition, productivity shocks, or separation shocks, the learning component of the model can naturally generate mobility between jobs within a firm and turnover between firms. I also include the proofs of Propositions 1 and 2 in the paper. In Section 2 I discuss model identification in detail, where, in particular, I prove that information in my data on the performance ratings of managers allows me to identify the learning process separately from the human capital process. In Section 3 I describe the original U.S. firm dataset of Baker, Gibbs, and Holmström (1994a,b), on which my work is based. In Section 4 I provide details about the estimation of the model, including the derivation of the likelihood function, a description of the numerical solution of the model, and a discussion of the results from a Monte Carlo exercise showing the identifiability of the model’s parameters in practice. There I also derive bounds on the informativeness of the jobs of the competitors of the firm in my data, based on the estimates of the parameters reported in the paper. Finally, in Section 5 I present estimation results based on a larger sample that includes entrants into the firm at levels higher than Level 1. Results of counterfactual experiments omitted from the paper are contained in Tables A.12–A.14.