The Macroeconomics of Narratives

175 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2022 Last revised: 4 Nov 2022

See all articles by Joel P. Flynn

Joel P. Flynn

Yale University

Karthik Sastry

Princeton University - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 3, 2022


We study the macroeconomic implications of narratives, or beliefs about the economy that affect decisions and spread contagiously. Empirically, we use natural-language-processing methods to measure textual proxies for narratives in US public firms' end-of-year reports (Forms 10-K). We find that: (i) firms' hiring decisions respond strongly to narratives, (ii) narratives spread contagiously among firms, and (iii) this spread is responsive to macroeconomic conditions. To understand the macroeconomic implications of these forces, we embed a contagious optimistic narrative in a business-cycle model. We characterize, in terms of the decision-relevance and contagiousness of narratives, when the unique equilibrium features: (i) non-fundamental business cycles, (ii) non-linear belief dynamics (narratives "going viral") that generate multiple stable steady states (hysteresis), and (iii) the coexistence of hump-shaped responses to small shocks with regime-shifting behavior in response to large shocks. Our empirical estimates discipline both the static, general equilibrium effect of narratives on output and their dynamics. In the calibrated model, we find that contagious optimism explains 32% and 18% of the output reductions over the early 2000s recession and Great Recession, respectively, as well as 19% of the unconditional variance in output. We find that overall optimism is not sufficiently contagious to generate hysteresis, but other, more granular narratives are.

Keywords: Narratives, Business Cycles, Expectations, Sentiment, Contagion, Optimism

JEL Classification: E32, E70, D84

Suggested Citation

Flynn, Joel P. and Sastry, Karthik, The Macroeconomics of Narratives (November 3, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Joel P. Flynn (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

493 College St
New Haven, CT CT 06520
United States

Karthik Sastry

Princeton University - Department of Economics ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

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