Industry-Level Effects of Government Spending
| Peter Klein |
A consistent theme of this blog’s postings on the financial crisis and recession is that the Keynesians focus on too high a level of aggregation. As economists and management scholars we care primarily about industries, firms, and individuals, not abstract macroeconomic aggregates like GDP, the “price level,” etc. Heterogeneity matters, and the way stimulus programs affect the allocation of resources across firms and industries is as important, or more important, than their economy-wide effects.
A new NBER paper by Christopher Nekarda and Valerie Ramey uses disaggregated industry-level data to examine the effect of the current US stimulus program on output, employment, real wages, and productivity. They find, not surprisingly, that increases in government spending directed toward a specific industry raise that industry’s short-term output and employment but — contrary to New Keynesian predictions — reduce that industry’s real wages and productivity.
Nekarda and Ramey note that stimulus spending has been directed disproportionately to durable-goods manufacturing and that these industries have higher returns to scale than other industries, possibly explaining how reductions in industry-level productivity could look like productivity gains in the aggregate. In other words, stimulus spending reduces efficiency in all industries, but directs resources toward industries that were more efficient to begin with, giving the appearance of a positive aggregate effect. Thoughtful and provocative.