Work on my book-in-progress has been slowed by other commitments, such as work on Queensland privatisation (hopefully this will get me in the right frame of mind for the privatisation chapter), but I’m still moving forward. Here’s a section on the GFC and the failure of the micro-foundations approach to macroeconomics. As always, comments much appreciated
The obvious criterion of success or failure for a macroeconomic theoretical framework is that it should provide the basis for predicting, understanding and responding to macroeconomic crises. If that criterion is applied to the current crisis, the micro-foundations approach to macroeconomics has been a near-total failure.
The failure of the dominant stream in macroeconomics was comprehensive.
First, during the bubble years the dominant approach gave little or no warning of the impending crisis. Neither sophisticated DSGE models nor the more pragmatic but less elegant micro-based models employed by the central banks gave much, if any, warning of the impending crisis.
Second, the dominant approach encouraged a benign view of the developments that gave rise to the crisis such as the growth and globalisation of the financial sector and the associated global imbalances. The boosterism of Alan Greenspan was an egregious example, but it was typical of the majority viewpoint.
Third, even as the crisis developed over the course of 2007 and 2008, its seriousness was persistently underestimated. This was exacerbated by the political context in which supporters of the Republican Administration in the US, a group little concerned with reality at the best of times, sought to deny the existence of a recession in an election year.
Fourth, the near-consensus apparent during the Great Moderation collapsed with the onset of crisis, revealing that the split between Keynesian and New Classical views had never been resolved, but merely papered over.
Fourth, it offered little or no useful guidance on the policy and theoretical issues raised by the crisis. The result that the public policy debate has been driven mostly by economists from outside the micro-foundations school. Advocacy of policies of fiscal stimulus has come, to a large extent,from economists such as Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong whose primary field is not macroeconomics, but who retain a historical understanding informed by Keynesianism. The most effective criticism has come from finance theorists like John Cochrane and Eugene Fama, mostly notable as advocates of the efficient markets hypothesis. Arguments on both sides have been couched in terms familiar to economists of 1970 and earlier, with each side accusing the other of holding views that had been refuted by the 1930s
The roots of this failure may be traced in part to problems with the micro-foundations approach itself. Micro-foundations models take general equilibrium as the starting point – modest variations of the standard classical assumptions suggest that deviations from classical properties are also likely to be modest. Macro models calibrated to the Great Moderation encouraged this assumption, as well as exclusive focus on monetary policy based on Taylor rules, which proved unavailing. The collapse of this position forced economists to shift either to the left (back to older versions of Keynesianism) or to the right (to extreme versions of classicism).
However, the broader intellectual climate of market liberalism, in which thinking about macroeconomic issues was conditioned by the assumptions of the efficient markets hypothesis and the apparent lessons of the Great Moderation. Concerns about market imbalances could not easily be reconciled with the implications of the efficient financial markets hypothesis or with the triumphalism of the Great Moderation.