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Regis Barnichon

Senior Research Advisor
Microeconomic Research
Macroeconomics, Applied econometrics, Labor

Regis.Barnichon (at) sf.frb.org

Published Articles (Refereed Journals and Volumes)
A Sufficient Statistics Approach for Macro Policy Evaluation

American Economic Review 113(11), November 2023, 2,809-2,845 | with Mesters

abstract

The evaluation of macroeconomic policy decisions has traditionally relied on the formulation of a specific economic model. In this work, we show that two statistics are sufficient to detect, often even correct, non-optimal policies, i.e., policies that do not minimize the loss function. The two sufficient statistics are (i) forecasts for the policy objectives conditional on the policy choice, and (ii) the impulse responses of the policy objectives to policy shocks. Both statistics can be estimated without relying on a specific structural economic model. We illustrate the method by studying U.S. monetary policy decisions.

Are the Effects of Financial Market Disruptions Big or Small?

Review of Economics and Statistics 104(3), May 2022, 557-570 | with Matthes and Ziegenbein

abstract

While episodes of financial distress are followed by large and persistent drops in economic activity, structural time series analyses point to relatively mild and transitory effects of financial market disruptions. We argue that these seemingly contradictory findings are due to the asymmetric effects of financial shocks, which have been predicted theoretically but not taken into account empirically. We estimate a model designed to identify the (possibly asymmetric) effects of financial market disruptions, and we find that a favorable financial shock–an easing of financial conditions–has little effect on output, but an adverse shock has large and persistent effects. In a counterfactual exercise, we find that over two-thirds of the gap between current US GDP and its 207 pre-crisis trend was caused by the 2007-2008 financial shocks.

A Menu of Insurance Contracts for the Unemployed

The Review of Economic Studies 89(1), 2022, 118-141 | with Zylberberg

abstract

Unemployment insurance (UI) programs traditionally take the form of a single insurance contract offered to job seekers. In this work, we show that offering a menu of contracts can be welfare improving in the presence of adverse selection and moral hazard. When insurance contracts are composed of (i) a UI payment and (ii) a severance payment paid at the onset of unemployment, offering contracts with different ratios of UI benefits to severance payment is optimal under the equivalent of a single-crossing condition: job seekers in higher need of unemployment insurance should be less prone to moral hazard. In that setting, a menu allows the planner to attract job seekers with a high need for insurance in a contract with generous UI benefits, and to attract job seekers most prone to moral hazard in a separate contract with a large severance payment but little unemployment insurance. We propose a simple sufficient statistics approach to test the single-crossing condition in the data.

Understanding the Size of the Government Spending Multiplier: It’s in the Sign

The Review of Economic Studies 89(1), January 2022, 87-117 | with Debortoli and Matthes

abstract

This paper argues that an important, yet overlooked, determinant of the government spending multiplier is the direction of the fiscal intervention. Regardless of whether we identify government spending shocks from (i) a narrative approach, or (ii) a timing restriction, we find that the contractionary multiplier–the multiplier associated with a negative shock to government spending–is above 1 and largest in times of economic slack. In contrast, the expansionary multiplier–the multiplier associated with a positive shock–is substantially below 1 regardless of the state of the cycle. These results help understand seemingly conflicting results in the literature. A simple theoretical model with incomplete financial markets and downward nominal wage rigidities can rationalize our findings.

The Phillips Multiplier

Journal of Monetary Economics 117, January 2021, 689-705 | with Mesters

abstract

The Phillips multiplier is a statistic to non-parametrically characterize the central bank inflation-unemployment trade-off. Inference on the Phillips multiplier is based on a simple instrumental variable regression of cumulative inflation on cumulative unemployment using monetary shocks as instruments. We compute the Phillips multiplier for the US and the UK and document that the trade-off went from being large in the pre-1990 sample period to being small (but significant) post-1990. In contrast to earlier evidence of a flattening of the slope of Phillips curve, the decline in the trade-off is mostly due to the anchoring of inflation expectations.

Identifying Modern Macro Equations with Old Shocks

The Quarterly Journal of Economics 135 (4), November 2020 | with Mesters

abstract

Despite decades of research, the consistent estimation of structural forward-looking macroeconomic equations remains a formidable empirical challenge because of pervasive endogeneity issues. Prominent cases—the estimation of Phillips curves, Euler equations, or monetary policy rules—have typically relied on using predetermined variables as instruments, with mixed success. In this work, we propose a new approach that consists in using sequences of independently identified structural shocks as instrumental variables. Our approach is robust to weak instruments and is valid regardless of the shocks’ variance contribution. We estimate a Phillips curve using monetary shocks as instruments and find that conventional methods substantially underestimate the slope of the Phillips curve.

Impulse Response Estimation by Smooth Local Projections

Review of Economics and Statistics 101(3), July 2019, 522-530 | with Brownlees

abstract

Local Projections (LP) is a popular methodology for the estimation of Impulse Responses (IR). Compared to the traditional VAR approach, LP allow for more flexible IR estimation by imposing weaker assumptions on the dynamics of the data. The nonparametric nature of LP comes at an efficiency cost and in practice the LP estimator may suffer from excessive variability. In this work we propose an IR estimation methodology based on B-spline smoothing called Smooth Local Projections (SLP). The SLP approach preserves the flexibility of standard LP, can substantially increase precision and is straightforward to implement. A simulation study shows that SLP can deliver substantial gains in IR estimation over LP. We illustrate our technique by studying the effects of monetary shocks where we highlight how SLP can easily incorporate commonly employed structural identification strategies.

Underemployment and the Trickle-Down of Unemployment

American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 11(2), April 2019, 40-78 | with Zylberberg

abstract

A substantial fraction of workers are under-employed, i.e., employed in jobs for which they are over-qualified, and that fraction –the under-employment rate– is higher in recessions. To explain these facts, we build a search model with an endogenous “ranking” mechanism, in which high-skill applicants are systematically hired over less-skilled competing applicants. Some high-skill workers become under-employed in order to escape the competition for high-skill jobs and find a job more rapidly at the expense of less-skilled workers. Quantitatively, the model can capture the key characteristics of underemployment, notably the facts that both the under-employment rate and the wage loss associated with becoming under-employed increase in recessions.

Functional Approximations of Impulse Responses (FAIR)

Journal of Monetary Economics 99, November 2018, 41-55 | with Matthes

abstract

A method to estimate the dynamic effects of structural shocks is proposed: “Functional Approximation of Impulse Responses” (FAIR) consists in directly estimating the moving average representation of the data by approximating impulse responses with a set of basis functions. FAIR can offer a number of benefits over alternative impulse response estimators, including VARs and Local Projections: (i) parsimony and efficiency, (ii) ability to summarize the dynamic effects of shocks with a few moments, (iii) ease of prior elicitation and structural identification, and (iv)
flexibility in allowing for non-linearities. As an illustration, we study the dynamic effects of monetary shocks, notably their asymmetric effects.

On the Demographic Adjustment of Unemployment

Review of Economics and Statistics 100(2), May 2018, 219-231 | with Mesters

abstract

The unemployment rate is one of the most important business cycle indicators, but its interpretation can be difficult because slow changes in the demographic composition of the labor force affect the level of unemployment and make comparisons across business cycles difficult. To purge the unemployment rate from demographic factors, labor force shares are routinely used to control for compositional changes. This paper shows that this approach is ill-defined, because the labor force share of a demographic group is mechanically linked to that group’s unemployment rate, as both variables are driven by the same underlying worker flows. We propose a new demographic-adjustment procedure that uses a dynamic factor model for the worker flows to separate aggregate labor market forces and demographic-specific trends. Using the US labor market as an illustration, our demographic-adjusted unemployment rate indicates that the 2008-2009 recession was much more severe and generated substantially more slack than the early 80s recession.

Forecasting Unemployment Across Countries: the Ins and Outs

European Economic Review 84, May 2016, 165-183 | with Garda

abstract

This paper evaluates the flow approach to unemployment forecasting proposed by Barnichon and Nekarda (2012) for a set of OECD countries characterized by very different labor markets. We find that the flow approach yields substantial improvements in forecast accuracy over professional forecasts for all countries, with especially large improvements at longer horizons(one-year ahead forecasts) for European countries. Moreover, the flow approach has the highest predictive ability during recessions and turning points, when unemployment forecasts are most valuable.

Declining Desire to Work and Downward Trends in Unemployment and Participation

NBER Macroeconomics Annual 30, 2016, 449-494 | with Figura

abstract

This paper argues that a key aspect of the US labor market is the presence of time-varying heterogeneity across nonparticipants. We document a decline in the share of non-participants who report wanting to work, and we argue that that decline, which was particularly strong in the second half of the 90s, is a major aspect of the downward trends in unemployment and participation over the past 20 years. A decline in the share of “want to work” nonparticipants lowers both the participation rate and the unemployment rate, because a nonparticipant who wants to work has (i) a higher probability of entering the
labor force (compared to other nonparticipants), and (ii) a higher probability of joining unemployment conditional on entering the labor force. We use cross-sectional variation to estimate a model of nonparticipants’propensity to want to work, and we …nd that changes in the provision of welfare and social insurance, possibly linked to the mid-90s welfare reforms, explain about 50 percent of the decline in desire to work among nonparticipants.

supplement

declining-desire-to-work-online-appendix.pdf – Additional Results

Labor Market Heterogeneity and the Aggregate Matching Function

American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 7 (4), October 2015, 222–249 | with Figura

abstract

We estimate an aggregate matching function and find that the regression residual, which captures movements in matching efficiency, displays procyclical fluctuations and a dramatic decline after 2007. Using a matching function framework that explicitly takes into account worker heterogeneity as well as market segmentation, we show that matching efficiency movements can be the result of variations in the degree of heterogeneity in the labor market. Matching efficiency declines substantially when, as in the Great Recession, the average characteristics of the unemployed deteriorate substantially, or when dispersion in labor market conditions—the extent to which some labor markets fare worse than others—increases markedly.

The Ins and Outs of Forecasting Unemployment

Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Fall 2012 | with Nekarda

abstract

This paper presents a forecasting model of unemployment based
on labor force flows data that, in real time, dramatically outperforms the Survey
of Professional Forecasters, historical forecasts from the Federal Reserve
Board’s Greenbook, and basic time-series models. Our model’s forecast has a
root-mean-squared error about 30 percent below that of the next-best forecast
in the near term and performs especially well surrounding large recessions and
cyclical turning points. Further, because our model uses information on labor
force flows that is likely not incorporated by other forecasts, a combined forecast including our model’s forecast and the SPF forecast yields an improvement over the latter alone of about 35 percent for current-quarter forecasts, and 15 percent for next-quarter forecasts, as well as improvements at longer horizons.

Which Industries Are Shifting the Beveridge Curve?

Monthly Labor Review June, June 2012, 25-37 | with Elsby, Hobijn, and Sahin

abstract

The negative relationship between the unemployment rate and the job openings rate, known as the Beveridge curve, has been relatively stable in the U.S. over the last decade. Since the summer of 2009, however, the U.S. unemployment rate has hovered between 9.4 and 10.1 percent in spite of firms reporting more job openings. We decompose the recent deviation from the Beveridge curve into different parts using data from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). We find that most of the current deviation from the Beveridge curve can be attributed to a shortfall in the vacancy yield, which measures hires per vacancy. This shortfall is broad-based across all industries and is particularly pronounced in construction, transportation, trade, and utilities, and leisure and hospitality. Construction alone accounts for more than a third of the Beveridge curve gap.

Vacancy posting, Job Separation and Unemployment Fluctuations

Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, March 2012

abstract

What is the relative importance of hiring and separation in driving unemployment fluctuations? This paper presents a framework to decompose the moments of unemployment and study the respective contributions of vacancy posting, a measure of firms’ hiring efforts, and separation. Separation accounts for about 40% of unemployment’s variance, compared to 60% for vacancy posting, and contributes to about 60% of unemployment steepness asymmetry, the fact that unemployment increases faster than it decreases. Further, while vacancy posting is, on average, the most important contributor of unemployment fluctuations, the opposite is true around business cycle turning points, when separation is responsible for most of unemployment movements.

Productivity and Unemployment over the Business Cycle

Journal of Monetary Economics, November 2010

abstract

The low correlation between cyclical unemployment and productivity over the postwar period hides a large sign switch in the mid-1980s: from significantly negative the correlation became significantly positive. Using a search model of unemployment with nominal rigidities and variable labor effort, I show that technology shocks can generate a positive unemployment-productivity correlation whereas non-technology shocks (i.e. aggregate demand shocks) tend to do the opposite. In this context, I identify two events that can quantitatively explain the increase in the correlation: (i) a sharp drop in
the volatility of non-technology shocks in the mid-1980s, and (ii) a decline in the response of productivity to non-technology shocks, which from procyclical became acyclical in the last 25 years.

supplement

productivity-and-unemployment-appendix.pdf – Additional Data

Building a Composite Help-Wanted Index

Economics Letters, November 2010

abstract

This paper builds a measure of vacancy posting over 1951–2009 that captures the behavior of total—print and online—help-wanted advertising, and can be used for time series analysis of the US labor market.

supplement

HWI_index.txt – Composite Help-Wanted Index

The Optimal Level of Reserves for Low-Income Countries: Self-Insurance against External Shocks

IMF Staff Papers 56 (4), 2009

abstract

This paper develops an analytical framework that helps to quantify the optimal level of international reserves for a small open economy with limited access to foreign capital and subject to natural disasters or terms-of-trade shocks. International reserves allow the country to relieve balance of payments pressures caused by external shocks and to avoid large fluctuations in imports. The paper calibrates the model to two regions—the Caribbean and the Sahel region in sub-Saharan Africa—and assesses the sensitivity of the results. The conclusion is that popular rules of thumb, such as maintaining
reserves equivalent to three months of imports, only give imprecise benchmarks.

Sources of Inflation in Sub-Saharan Africa

Journal of African Economies 17.(5.) , 2008 | with Peiris

abstract

This paper explores the sources of inflation in Sub-Saharan Africa by examining the relationship between inflation, the output gap and the real money gap. Using heterogeneous panel co-integration estimation techniques, we estimate co-integrating vectors for the production function and the real money demand function to recover the structural output and money gaps for 17 African countries. The central finding is that both gaps contain significant information regarding the evolution of inflation, albeit with a larger role played by the money gap. There is no significant evidence of asymmetry in the relationship.

FRBSF Publications
What If? Monetary Policy in Hindsight

Economic Letter 2022-28 | October 11, 2022

What’s the Best Measure of Economic Slack?

Economic Letter 2022-04 | February 22, 2022 | with Shapiro

Is the American Rescue Plan Taking Us Back to the ’60s?

Economic Letter 2021-27 | October 18, 2021 | with Oliveira and Shapiro

Can Government Spending Help to Escape Recessions?

Economic Letter 2021-02 | February 1, 2021 | with Debortoli and Matthes

Adjusting the Unemployment Thermometer

Economic Letter 2020-27 | September 3, 2020 | with Yee

Is the Hot Economy Pulling New Workers into the Labor Force?

Economic Letter 2019-15 | May 20, 2019

The Financial Crisis at 10: Will We Ever Recover?

Economic Letter 2018-19 | August 13, 2018 | with Matthes and Ziegenbein

The Natural Rate of Unemployment over the Past 100 Years

Economic Letter 2017-23 | August 14, 2017 | with Matthes

How Tight Is the U.S. Labor Market?

Economic Letter 2017-07 | March 20, 2017 | with Mesters