## Progress in Macroeconomics?

A decade ago, Olivier Blanchard, now IMF chief economist, wrote that there had been a lot of progress in macroeconomics since 1920:

What Do We Know that Fisher and Wicksell Did Not?: The answer to the question... is: A lot.... Pre 1940. A period of exploration.... From 1949 to 1980. A period of consolidation... an integrated framework was developed--starting with the IS-LM, all the way to dynamic general equilibrium models--and used to clarify the role of shocks and propagation mechanisms.... since 1980. A new period of exploration, focused on the role of imperfections... nominal price setting... incompleteness of markets... asymmetric information... search and bargaining in decentralized markets....

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The right [picture] is one of a steady accumulation of knowledge.... [R]evolutionaries make the news... [their ideas are] discarded... bastardized, then integrated. The insights become part of the core....

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Relative to Wicksell and Fisher, macroeconomics today is solidly grounded in a general equilibrium structure. Modrn models characterize the economy as being in temporary equilibrium, given the implications of the past, and the anticipations of th efuture. They provide an interpretation of shocks working their way through propagation mechanisms...

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One way to end is to ask: Of how much use was macroeconomic research in understanding... the Asian crisis?... Macroeconomists did not predict either the time, place, or scope of the crisis.... [W]hen the crisis started, macroeconomic mistakes... were made. But fairly quickly the nature of the crisis was better understood, and the mistakes correcxted. And most of the tools needed were there.... since then, a large amount of further research has taken place, leading to a better understanding of the role of financial intermediaries in exchange-rate crisis...

Even then Paul Krugman snarked:

Paul Krugman recently wondered how many macroeconomists still believe in the IS-LM model. The answer is probably that most do, but many of them probably do not know it well enough to tell..

Today things look considerably different on the progress-in-macroeconomics front. John Quiggin:

Refuted/obsolete economic doctrines #7: New Keynesian macroeconomics at John Quiggin: [Here is] a new entry for my list of refuted economic doctrines... the target... has... [been] rendered obsolete by events... New Keynesianism an approach to macroeconomics, to which Akerlof and Shiller have made some of the biggest contributions, but which they have now... repudiated.... [T]he research task was seen as one of identifying minimal deviations from the standard [rational foresight, self-interest, and competiative markets] microeconomic assumptions which yield Keynesian macroeconomic conclusions.... Akerlof’s ‘menu costs’ arguments... are an ideal example of this kind of work. New Keynesian macroeconomics has been tested by the current global financial and macroeconomic crisis and has, broadly speaking, been found wanting. The analysis of those Keynesians who warned of impending crisis combined an ‘old Keynesian’ analysis of mounting economic imbalances with a Minskyan focus on financial instability.... [T]he policy response... has been informed mainly by old-fashioned ‘hydraulic’ Keynesianism... massive economic stimulus... large-scale intervention in the financial system. The opponents of Keynesianism have retreated even further into the past, reviving the anti-Keynesian arguments of the 1930s and arguing at length over policy responses to the Great Depression.

There is of course, still a need to explain why wages do not adjust rapidly to clear labour markets in the face of an external financial shock. But in an environment where the workings of sophisticated financial markets display collective irrationality on a massive scale, there is much less reason to be concerned about the fact that such an explanation must involve deviations from rationality, and seeking to minimise those deviations....

New Keynesianism... was a defensive adjustment to the dominance of free market ideas.... New Keynesians sought a theoretical framework that would justify medium-term macroeconomic management based on manipulation of interest rates by central banks, and a fiscal policy that allowed automatic stabilisers to work, against advocates of fixed monetary rules and annual balanced budgets. But now that both... the efficient markets hypothesis and the policy framework that brought us the Great Moderation have collapsed, there is no need for such a defensive stance...

George Akerlof and Robert Shiller agree with Quiggin rather than Blanchard:

Akerlof and Shiller, Animal Spirits: The economics of the textbooks seeks to minimise as much as possible departures from pure economic motivation and from rationality.... [E]ach of us has spent a good portion of his life writing in this tradition. The [self-interest and rational foresight-based] economics of Adam Smith is well understood. Explanations in terms of small deviations from Smith’s ideal system are thus clear because they are posed within a framework that is already very well understood. But that does not mean that these small deviations from Smith’s system describe how the economy actually works.... In our view, economic theory should be derived not from the minimal deviations from the system of Adam Smith but rather from the deviations [from competitive markets, self-interested motivation, and rational foresight] that actually do occur...

So does Greg Clark: his rant from his seat as chair of the U.C. Davis Economics Department:

Dismal scientists: how the crash is reshaping economics - The Atlantic Business Channel: In the long post WWII boom, as free market ideology triumphed, economists have won for themselves a privileged place inside academia.... [C]ash.... Not much by the pornographic standards of finance, but a fat paycheck compared to your average English or Physics professor. It is not just the stars.  Journeyman assistant professors in economics routinely come in at $100,000 or more... fresh from their PhDs, without a publication to their name and without years of low pay as post-docs. The high salaries have been accompanied by dramatic declines in the teaching burden.... Why did academic economics generate so much prestige?... [W]hat drove demand was the unquenchable thirst for economists by banks, government agencies, and business schools - the Feds, the Treasury, the IMF, the World Bank, the ECB. Economics had powerful insights to offer the world, insights worth a lot of treasure. Economics was powerful voodoo.... The current recession has revealed... as useless the mathematical contortions of academic economics. There is no totemic power.... (1) Almost no-one predicted the world wide downtown. Academic economists were confident that episodes like the Great Depression had been confined to the dust bins of history. There was indeed much recent debate about the sources of "The Great Moderation" in modern economies, the declining significance of business cycles.... [M]acroeconomists had turned their considerable talents to a bizarre variety of rococo academic elaborations. With nothing of importance to explain, why not turn to the mysteries of online dating, for example.... (2) The debate about the bank bailout, and the stimulus package, has all revolved around issues that are entirely at the level of Econ 1. What is the multiplier from government spending? Does government spending crowd out private spending? How quickly can you increase government spending? If you got a A in college in Econ 1 you are an expert in this debate: fully an equal of Summers and Geithner. The bailout debate has also been conducted in terms that would be quite familiar to economists in the 1920s and 1930s. There has essentially been no advance in our knowledge in 80 years.... Bizarrely, suddenly everyone is interested in economics, but most academic economists are ill-equipped to address these issues. Recently a group of economists affiliated with the Cato Institute ran an ad in the New York Times opposing the Obama's stimulus plan. As chair of my department I tried to arrange a public debate between one of the signatories and a proponent of fiscal stimulus -- thinking that would be a timely and lively session. But the signatory, a fully accredited university macroeconomist, declined the opportunity for public defense of his position on the grounds that "all I know on this issue I got from Greg Mankiw's blog -- I really am not equipped to debate this with anyone." Academic economics will no doubt survive this shock to its prestige.... [But] the days of the$500,000 economics professor may have passed.... [W]ill the focus of academic economics change?... I would rate the chances of Chrysler producing once again a competitive US automobile at least as high as the chances of academic economics learning any lesson from this downturn...

Watching the scrum over the past six months, I have to call this one for Krugman, Clark, Akerlof, Shiller, and Quiggin and against Blanchard's vision of growing knowledge and analytical convergence. Economists have been worrying about the industrial business cycle and the proper role of the government in trying to tame it since 1825. Yet there are an extraordinary number of people out there calling themselves macroeconomists who do not have the slightest clue as to what the issues have been over the past two hundred years.