Evolution of Modern Business Cycle Models: Accounting for the Great Recession

by Patrick J. Kehoe, Virgiliu Midrigan, Elena Pastorino
Friday, October 16, 2020

Economics Working Paper 20121

Abstract:  Modern business cycle theory focuses on the study of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) models that generate aggregate fluctuations similar to those experienced by actual economies. We discuss how these modern business cycle models have evolved across three generations, from their roots in the early real business cycle models of the late 1970s through the turmoil of the Great Recession four decades later. The first generation models were real (that is, without a monetary sector) business cycle models that primarily explored whether a small number of shocks, often one or two, could generate fluctuations similar to those observed in aggregate variables such as output, consumption, investment, and hours. These basic models disciplined their key parameters with micro evidence and were remarkably successful in matching these aggregate variables. A second generation of these models incorporated frictions such as sticky prices and wages; these models were primarily developed to be used in central banks for short-term forecasting purposes and for performing counterfactual policy experiments. A third generation of business cycle models incorporate the rich heterogeneity of patterns from the micro data. A defining characteristic of these models is not the heterogeneity among model agents they accommodate nor the micro-level evidence they rely on (although both are common), but rather the insistence that any new parameters or feature included be explicitly disciplined by direct evidence. We show how two versions of this latest generation of modern business cycle models, which are real business cycle models with frictions in labor and financial markets, can account, respectively, for the aggregate and the cross-regional fluctuations observed in the United States during the Great Recession.

This article was originally published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The citation for the article is: "Evolution of Modern Business Cycle Models: Accounting for the Great Recession” by Kehoe, Patrick J., Virgiliu Midrigan, and Elena Pastorino. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 32 (3): 141-66. Copyright © 2018 by the American Economic Association, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.32.3.141

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