NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Welfare Cost of Business Cycles Revisited: Finite Lives and Cyclical Variation in Idiosyncratic Risk

Kjetil Storesletten, Chris I. Telmer, Amir Yaron

NBER Working Paper No. 8040
Issued in December 2000
NBER Program(s):   EFG

This paper investigates the welfare costs of business cycles in a heterogeneous agent, overlapping generations economy which is distinguished by idiosyncratic labor market risk. Aggregate variation arises both in terms of aggregate productivity shocks and countercyclical variation in the volatility of idiosyncratic shocks. Based on both aggregate data and microeconomic data from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics, we find the welfare benefits of eliminating aggregate variation to be large an order of magnitude larger than those originally documented by Lucas (1987). The key difference is countercyclical variation in idiosyncratic risk, which both amplifies the welfare cost of aggregate productivity shocks and imposes a cost of its own. The magnitude of these effects increases non-linearly in risk aversion. Our results support the increasingly popular notion that distributional effects are an important aspect of understanding the welfare cost of business cycles.

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Published: Storesletten, Kjetil, Chris T. Telmer and Amir Yaron. "The Welfare Cost Of Business Cycles Revisited: Finite Lives And Cyclical Variation In Idiosyncratic Risk," European Economic Review, 2001, v45(7,Jun), 1311-1339.

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