Recessions often coincide with intensified restructuring. The conventional Schumpeterian view argues that recessions promote allocative efficiency by driving out less productive firms and freeing resources for more productive uses. This paper proposes that the conventional cleansing effect is offset by a scarring effect. Recessions impede the development of potentially superior firms, which might put innovations to better uses, but which are destroyed during their infancy, and never realize their potential. A model of industry dynamics that combines Schumpeterian creative destruction with firm learning is developed to capture both the cleansing and scarring effects. Calibrating the model with data from the U.S. manufacturing sector demonstrates that the scarring effect is likely to dominate the cleansing effect, and accounts for the procyclicality of average labor productivity, a phenomenon at odds with conventional cleansing models.
This paper explores the role that recessions play in resource allocation. The conventional cleansing view, advanced by Schumpeter in 1934, argues that recessions promote more efficient resource allocation by driving out less productive units and freeing up resources for better uses. However, empirical evidence is at odds with this view: average labor productivity is procyclical, and jobs created during recessions tend to be short-lived. This paper posits an additional "scarring" effect: recessions "scar" the economy by killing off "potentially good firms". By adding learning to a vintage model, I show that as a recession arrives and persists, the reduced profitability limits the scope of learning, makes labor less concentrated on good firms, and thus pulls down average productivity. Calibrating my model using data on job flows from the U.S. manufacturing sector, I find that the scarring effect is likely to dominate the conventional cleansing effect, and can account for the observed pro-cyclical average labor productivity
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