The return of schools of thought in macroeconomics..

A fab post from Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University.

Just five years ago, macroeconomists talked about a new synthesis, bringing together Keynesian and Classical ideas in a unified, microfounded theoretical framework. Following the Great Recession, it appears that mainstream macroeconomics has once again split into schools of thought. This column explains why macroeconomics, unlike microeconomics, periodically fragments in this way.

I am not going into how the recession has led to return of debate over macro schools.

But why macro fragments this way?

So why have schools of thought within mainstream macroeconomics returned? One simple story is that schools of thought are associated with macroeconomic crises, and macro synthesis follows periods of calm. Keynesian theory itself was born out of the Great Depression. The first Neoclassical Synthesis arose from the period of strong growth and low inflation in the postwar period. Monetarism gained strength from the rapid inflation of the 1970s. The more recent synthesis may be a child of the Great Moderation, and now we have the Great Recession, schools of thought have returned. Because these crises are macroeconomic, and there are no equivalent crises involving microeconomic behaviour or policy, then fragmentation of the mainstream into schools will be a macro, not micro, phenomenon.

However I think this is too simplistic a view of what is happening today. One interesting feature of the current divide is that the label ‘Keynesian’ appears to be used more by those opposed to certain policies – and in particular fiscal stimulus – than those on the other side. Typically Keynesians see themselves as putting forward synthesis analysis, without the need for branding. What has become clear is that the New Neoclassical Synthesis was in many ways a celebration of New Keynesian theory which was not shared by many freshwater departments in the US.

He says at the end that this keynes/anti keynes is going to remain as it is based on belief system. However, this division makes economics looks more like a belief system than science:

This outcome may, however, represent wishful thinking by New Keynesians. An alternative reading is that the Keynesian/Anti-Keynesian division is always going to be with us, because it reflects an ideological divide about state intervention. That divide occurs all the time in microeconomics, but because it involves arguing about many different externalities or imperfections it does not lend itself to fragmentation into schools. In macro, however, there is one critical externality to do with price rigidity, and so disagreements about policy can easily be mapped into differences about theory. Demand denial is attractive because it gives a non-ideological justification for what is essentially an ideological position about economic policy. Unfortunately, there is a danger that dividing mainstream analysis this way makes macroeconomics look more like a belief system than a science.

Well it was never a science. It was a social science (for lack of a better term) and forcefully made a science. Well if  we follow the history of economic thought and history of schools it was based on certain beliefs. The crisis has just reinforced the history….


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