Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Future of Economics

By Steve Keen

For its entire history, macroeconomics has been dominated by mathematical models that ignore the existence of money, debt and banking, and that perceive the economy’s movement through time as transitions from one state of equilibrium to another.

At any point in history, these would be heroic assumptions. Could it really be true that models without either money or instability are provably superior at predicting the economy’s future course than models in which money and banking exist, and in which the model economy can be out of equilibrium? If not, is it the case then that such models are simply too difficult to construct—that the best we can do is pretend that the economy doesn’t have banks or money, and that it’s always in equilibrium, even if we know these assumptions are false?

Before the crisis of 2007, few non-economists even asked those questions, because there seemed to be no need to challenge what economists did. The economy, after all, was going gangbusters. Professional economists, using the very latest mathematical models of the economy, took credit for its sterling performance, and predicted more of the same for the foreseeable future.

Robert Lucas, the father of “Rational Expectations Macroeconomics”, asserted that the “macroeconomics … has succeeded. Its central problem of depression prevention has been solved, for all practical purposes, and has in fact been solved for many decades.”[1] Ben Bernanke lauded “improved control of inflation” as the cause of “the Great Moderation”, which he described as “this welcome change in the economy.” [2] In June 2007, the OECD, guided by its macroeconomic model, opined that “the current economic situation is in many ways better than what we have experienced in years… Our central forecast remains indeed quite benign”. [3]

Then all hell broke loose, and almost five years later, it shows no signs of abating.
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