The Network Origins of Large Economic Downturns

Daron Acemoglu, Asuman Ozdaglar, Alireza Tahbaz-Salehi

NBER Working Paper No. 19230
Issued in July 2013
NBER Program(s):   EFG

This paper shows that large economic downturns may result from the propagation of microeconomic shocks over the input-output linkages across different firms or sectors within the economy. Building on the framework of Acemoglu et al. (2012), we argue that the economy's input-output structure can fundamentally reshape the distribution of aggregate output, increasing the likelihood of large downturns from infinitesimal to substantial. More specifically, we show that an economy with non-trivial intersectoral input-output linkages that is subject to thin-tailed productivity shocks may exhibit deep recessions as frequently as economies that are subject to heavy-tailed shocks. Moreover, we show that in the presence of input-output linkages, aggregate volatility is not necessarily a sufficient statistic for the likelihood of large downturns. Rather, depending on the shape of the distribution of the idiosyncratic shocks, different features of the economy's input-output network may be of first-order importance. Finally, our results establish that the effects of the economy's input-output structure and the nature of the idiosyncratic firm-level shocks on aggregate output are not separable, in the sense that the likelihood of large economic downturns is determined by the interplay between the two.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19230

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