Sunday, November 21, 2010

The End of the Recrudescence of Keynesian Economics

This past weekend Columbia University hosted a conference on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the famous Phelps volume on the micro foundations of macroeconomics. In addition to the technical papers, which will eventually be published in a conference volume, important lunch and dinner talks were given by two of the most recent Nobel Prize winners in economics--Dale Mortenson and Chris Pissaredes--as well as by Fool’s Gold author Gillian Tett of the FT and Ned Phelps.

Ned spoke about what he called the “recrudescence of Keynesian economics.” He explained why, as he put it in his New York Times column of last August, “The steps being taken by government officials to help the economy are based on a faulty premise. The diagnosis is that the economy is ‘constrained’ by a deficiency of aggregate demand. The officials’ prescription is to stimulate that demand, for as long as it takes, to facilitate the recovery of an otherwise undamaged economy — as if the task were to help an uninjured skater get up after a bad fall. The prescription will fail because the diagnosis is wrong.”

The problem with these Keynesian policies is that at best they give short term boosts to the economy, but then fizzle out as we are seeing now. Sustaining growth in employment requires sustaining investment, which requires government policy that encourages investment and innovation, not short-run stimulus packages that try to boost consumption and government purchases, which crowd out investment.
Will there be an end of this recrudescence? Politics as well as economics will be an important determining factor, at least that’s what the historical analysis in the paper I presented at the conference shows. The good news then is that more people are beginning to see the problems with these stimulus packages and the political process is responding.

Note, however, that Russ Roberts has an alternative and quite plausible "political economy" explanation for why policymakers tend to choose interventionist policies such as discretonary Keynesian stimulus packages.

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