The Macroeconomic Impact of Microeconomic Shocks: Beyond Hulten's Theorem

David Rezza Baqaee, Emmanuel Farhi

NBER Working Paper No. 23145
Issued in February 2017, Revised in December 2018
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth

We provide a nonlinear characterization of the macroeconomic impact of microeconomic productivity shocks in terms of reduced-form non-parametric elasticities for efficient economies. We also show how structural microeconomic parameters are mapped to these reduced-form general equilibrium elasticities. In this sense, we extend the foundational theorem of Hulten (1978) beyond first-order terms to capture nonlinearities. Key features ignored by first-order approximations that play a crucial role are: structural elasticities of substitution, network linkages, structural returns to scale, and the extent of factor reallocation. In a business-cycle calibration with sectoral shocks, nonlinearities magnify negative shocks and attenuate positive shocks, resulting in an aggregate output distribution that is asymmetric (negative skewness), fat-tailed (excess kurtosis), and has a lower mean, even when shocks are symmetric and thin-tailed. Average output losses due to short-run sectoral shocks are an order of magnitude larger than the welfare cost of business cycles calculated by Lucas (1987). Nonlinearities can also cause shocks to critical sectors to have disproportionate macroeconomic effects, almost tripling the estimated impact of the 1970s oil shocks on world aggregate output. Finally, in a long-run growth context, nonlinearities, which underpin Baumol’s cost disease via the increase over time in the sales shares of low-growth bottleneck sectors, account for a 20 percentage point reduction in aggregate TFP growth over the period 1948-2014 in the US.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23145

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