Associated Programs

Explorations in Theory and Empirical Analysis

Explorations in Theory and Empirical Analysis

On occasion, scholars at the Levy Institute conduct research that does not fall within a current program or general topic area. Such study might include examination of a subject of particular policy interest, empirical research that has grown out of work in a current program area, or initial exploration in an area being considered for a new research program. Recent studies have included those on Harrodian growth models, the economic consequences of German reunification, and campaign finance reform.

Research Program

Economic Policy for the 21st Century



Program Publications

  • Working Paper No. 1006 | April 2022
    This paper argues that the 40-year-old Feldstein-Horioka “puzzle” (i.e., that in a regression of the domestic investment rate on the domestic saving rate, the estimated coefficient is significantly larger than what would be expected in a world characterized by high capital mobility) should have never been labeled as such. First, we show that the investment and saving series typically used in empirical exercises to test the Feldstein-Horioka thesis are not appropriate for testing capital mobility. Second, and complementary to the first point, we show that the Feldstein-Horioka regression is not a model in the econometric sense, i.e., an equation with a proper error term (a random variable). The reason is that by adding the capital account to their regression, one gets the accounting identity that relates the capital account, domestic investment, and domestic saving. This implies that the estimate of the coefficient of the saving rate in the Feldstein-Horioka regression can be thought of as a biased estimate of the same coefficient in the accounting identity, where it has a value of one. Since the omitted variable is known, we call it “pseudo bias.” Given that this (pseudo) bias is known to be negative and less than one in absolute terms, it should come as no surprise that the Feldstein-Horioka regression yields a coefficient between zero and one.
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    Author(s):
    Jesus Felipe Scott Fullwiler Al-Habbyel Yusoph
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  • Working Paper No. 1004 | March 2022
    A Theoretical Framework
    Liabilities denominated in foreign currency have established a permanent role on emerging market firms’ balance sheets, which implies that changes in both global liquidity conditions and in the value of the currency may have a long-lasting effect for them. In order to consider the financial conditions that may encourage (discourage) structural change in a small, open economy, we adopt the framework put forward by the “monetary theory of distribution” (MTD). More specifically, we follow the formulation adopted by Dvoskin and Feldman (2019), whereby the financial system is intended as a basic sector that promotes innovation (Schumpeter 1911). In accordance with this, financial conditions are binding only for the innovative entrepreneurs, whose methods of production are not dominant and hence they need to borrow from banks to kickstart their production. Through this device, our model offers an explanation of the technological lock-in experienced by a small, open economy that takes international prices as given.
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    Author(s):
    Giuliano Toshiro Yajima Lorenzo Nalin
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  • Working Paper No. 1001 | February 2022
    This paper estimates the distribution-led regime of the US economy for the period 1947–2019. We use a time varying parameter model, which allows for changes in the regime over time. To the best of our knowledge this is the first paper that has attempted to do this. This innovation is important, because there is no reason to expect that the regime of the US economy (or any economy for that matter) remains constant over time. On the contrary, there are significant reasons that point to changes in the regime. We find that the US economy became more profit-led in the first postwar decades until the 1970s and has become less profit-led since; it is slightly wage-led over the last fifteen years.

  • Working Paper No. 998 | January 2022
    A Critique of Aggregate Indicators
    Economic analysts have used trends in total factor productivity (TFP) to evaluate the effectiveness with which economies are utilizing advances in technology. However, this measure is problematic on several different dimensions. First, the idea that it is possible to separate out the relative contribution to economic output of labor, capital, and technology requires ignoring their complex interdependence in actual production. Second, since TFP growth has declined in recent decades in all of the developed market societies, there is good reason to believe that the decline is an artifact of the slower rates of economic growth that are linked to austerity policies. Third, reliance on TFP assumes that measures of gross domestic product are accurately capturing changes in economic output, even as the portion of the labor force producing tangible goods has declined substantially. Finally, there are other indicators that suggest that current rates of technological progress might be as strong or stronger than in earlier decades.

  • Working Paper No. 994 | October 2021
    Biased Coefficients and Endogenous Regressors, or a Case of Collective Amnesia?
    The possible endogeneity of labor and capital in production functions, and the consequent bias of the estimated elasticities, has been discussed and addressed in the literature in different ways since the 1940s. This paper revisits an argument first outlined in the 1950s, which questioned production function estimations. This argument is that output, capital, and employment are linked through a distribution accounting identity, a key point that the recent literature has overlooked. This identity can be rewritten as a form that resembles a production function (Cobb-Douglas, CES, translog). We show that this happens because the data used in empirical exercises are value (monetary) data, not physical quantities. The argument has clear predictions about the size of the factor elasticities and about what is commonly interpreted as the bias of the estimated elasticities. To test these predictions, we estimate a typical Cobb-Douglas function using five estimators and show that: (i) the identity is responsible for the fact that the elasticities must be the factor shares; (ii) the bias of the estimated elasticities (i.e., departure from the factor shares) is, in reality, caused by the omission of a term in the identity. However, unlike in the standard omitted-variable bias problem, here the omitted term is known; and (iii) the estimation method is a second-order issue. Estimation methods that theoretically deal with endogeneity, including the most recent ones, cannot solve this problem. We conclude that the use of monetary values rather than physical data poses an insoluble problem for the estimation of production functions. This is, consequently, far more serious than any supposed endogeneity problems.

  • Working Paper No. 993 | September 2021
    Theory and Empirics
    This paper provides a theoretical and empirical reassessment of supermultiplier theory. First, we show that, as a result of the passive role it assigns to investment, the Sraffian supermultiplier (SSM) predicts that the rate of utilization leads the investment share in a dampened cycle or, equivalently,  that a convergent cyclical motion in the utilization-investment share plane would be counterclockwise. Second, impulse response functions from standard recursive vector autoregressions (VAR) for postwar US samples strongly indicate that the investment share leads the rate of utilization, or that these cycles are clockwise. These results raise questions about the key mechanism underlying supermultiplier theory.

  • Working Paper No. 989 | June 2021
    The paper provides an empirical discussion of the national emergency utilization rate (NEUR), which is based on a “national emergency” definition of potential output and is published by the US Census Bureau. Over the peak-to-peak period 1989–2019, the NEUR decreased by 14.2 percent. The paper examines the trajectory of potential determinants of capacity utilization over the same period as specified in the related theory, namely: capital intensity, relative prices of labor and capital, shift differentials, rhythmic variations in demand, industry concentration, and aggregate demand. It shows that most of them have moved in a direction that would lead to an increase in utilization. The main factor that can explain the decrease in the NEUR is aggregate demand, while the increase in industry concentration might have also played a small role.

  • Working Paper No. 986 | March 2021
    Evolution and Contemporary Relevance
    This paper traces the evolution of John Maynard Keynes’s theory of the business cycle from his early writings in 1913 to his policy prescriptions for the control of fluctuations in the early 1940s. The paper identifies six different “theories” of business fluctuations. With different theoretical frameworks in a 30-year span, the driver of fluctuations—namely cyclical changes in expectations about future returns—remained substantially the same. The banking system also played a pivotal role throughout the different versions, by financing and influencing the behavior of return expectations. There are four major changes in the evolution of Keynes’s business cycle theories: a) the saving–investment framework to understand changes in economic fluctuations; b) the capabilities of the banking system to moderate the business cycle; c) the effectiveness of monetary policy to fine tune the business cycle through the control of the short-term interest rate or credit conditions; and d) the role of a comprehensive fiscal policy and investment policy to attenuate fluctuations. Finally, some conclusions are drawn about the present relevance of the policy mix Keynes promoted for ensuring macroeconomic stability.

  • Working Paper No. 974 | October 2020
    Financial Instability and Crises in Keynes’s Monetary Thought
    This paper revisits Keynes’s writings from Indian Currency and Finance (1913) to The General Theory (1936) with a focus on financial instability. The analysis reveals Keynes’s astute concerns about the stability/fragility of the banking system, especially under deflationary conditions. Keynes’s writings during the Great Depression uncover insights into how the Great Depression may have informed his General Theory. Exploring the connection between the experience of the Great Depression and the theoretical framework Keynes presents in The General Theory, the assumption of a constant money stock featuring in that work is central. The analysis underscores the case that The General Theory is not a special case of the (neo-)classical theory that is relevant only to “depression economics”—refuting the interpretation offered by J. R. Hicks (1937) in his seminal paper “Mr. Keynes and the Classics: A Suggested Interpretation.” As a scholar of the Great Depression and Federal Reserve chairman at the time of the modern crisis, Ben Bernanke provides an important intellectual bridge between the historical crisis of the 1930s and the modern crisis of 2007–9. The paper concludes that, while policy practice has changed, the “classical” theory Keynes attacked in 1936 remains hegemonic today. The common (mis-)interpretation of The General Theory as depression economics continues to describe the mainstream’s failure to engage in relevant monetary economics.

  • Working Paper No. 957 | June 2020
    The Long Period Method, Technical Change, and Gender
    This paper presents a critique of Karl Marx’s labor theory of value and his theory of falling profit rates from an intersectional political economy perspective. Specifically, I rely on social reproduction theory to propose that Marx-biased technical change disrupts the social order and leads to competition between workers. The bargaining power of workers cannot be dissociated from class struggle within the working class. I argue that technical change increases social conflict, which can counterbalance the long-run tendency of the profit rate to fall. The conclusion is that class struggle is multilayered and endogenous to the process of accumulation.