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Interpreting the Great Moderation: Changes in the Volatility of Economic Activity at the Macro and Micro Levels

41 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2008  

Steven J. Davis

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

James A. Kahn

Federal Reserve Bank of New York; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: May 2008

Abstract

We review evidence on the Great Moderation in conjunction with evidence about volatility trends at the micro level. We combine the two types of evidence to develop a tentative story for important components of the aggregate volatility decline and its consequences. The key ingredients are declines in firm-level volatility and aggregate volatility -- most dramatically in the durable goods sector -- but the absence of a decline in household consumption volatility and individual earnings uncertainty. Our explanation for the aggregate volatility decline stresses improved supply-chain management, particularly in the durable goods sector, and, less important, a shift in production and employment from goods to services. We provide evidence that better inventory control made a substantial contribution to declines in firm-level and aggregate volatility. Consistent with this view, if we look past the turbulent 1970s and early 1980s much of the moderation reflects a decline in high frequency (short-term) fluctuations. While these developments represent efficiency gains, they do not imply (nor is there evidence for) a reduction in economic uncertainty faced by individuals and households.

Suggested Citation

Davis, Steven J. and Kahn, James A., Interpreting the Great Moderation: Changes in the Volatility of Economic Activity at the Macro and Micro Levels (May 2008). NBER Working Paper No. w14048. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1139364

Steven J. Davis (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

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James A. Kahn

Federal Reserve Bank of New York ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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