Making DSGE models less imperialistic
Mainlymacro blog has a post on DSGE models. He points to a recent short paper from Blanchard who questions the hype and imperialism of DSGE models. Blanchard has become really critical of current macro models which is kind of ironical. After all these are the econs who have made these ideas so popular and imperialistic.
Olivier Blanchard, former director of the IMF’s research department, has written a short critical pieceabout DSGE models. Forget all the econblog reaction that essentially says he has been too kind: DSGE completely dominates academic macroeconomics, and there is no way that all these academics are going to suddenly decide this research programme is a waste of time. (I happen to think Blanchard is right that it isn’t a waste of time.) What is at issue is not the existence of DSGE models, but theirhegemony.
One of Blanchard’s recommendations is that DSGE “has to become less imperialistic. Or, perhaps more fairly, the profession (and again, this is a note to the editors of the major journals) must realize that different model types are needed for different tasks.” The most important part of that sentence is the bit in brackets. He talks about a distinction between fully microfounded models and ‘policy models’. The latter used to be called Structural Econometric Models (SEMs), and they are the type of model that Lucas and Sargent famously attacked.
These SEMs have survived as the core model used in many important policy institutions (except for the Bank of England) for good reason, but DSGE trained academics have followed Lucas and Sargent as viewing these as not ‘proper macroeconomics’. Their reasoning is simply wrong, as I discuss here. As Blanchard notes, it is the editors of top journals that need to realise this, and stop insisting that all aggregate models have to be microfounded. The moment they allow space for eclecticism, then academics will be able to choose which methods they use.
Blanchard has one other ‘note for editors’ remark, and it also gets to the heart of the problem with today’s macroeconomics. He writes “Not every discussion of a new mechanism should be required to come with a complete general equilibrium closure.” The example he discusses, and which I have also used in this context, is consumption. DSGE modellers have of course often departed from the simple Euler equation, but I suspect the ways they have done this (rule of thumb consumers, habits) reflect analytical convenience rather than realism.
What sometimes seems to be missing in macro nowadays is a connection between people working on partial equilibrium analysis (like consumption) and general equilibrium modellers. Top journal editors’ preference for the latter means that the former is less highly valued. In my view this has already had important costs. I argue that the failure to take seriously the strong evidence about the importance of changes in credit availability for consumption played an important part in the inability of macroeconomics to adequately model the response to the financial crisis (for more discussion see here and here). Even if you do not accept that, the failure of most DSGE models to include any kind of precautionary saving behaviour does not seem right when DSGE has a monopoly in ‘proper modelling’. 
Criticism of the DSGE hegemony from those outside economics, from macroeconomists who are not part of it, or even from economic policymakers has had little impact on those all important journal editors up until now. Perhaps similar comments from one of the best macroeconomists in the world might.
It is just getting worse actually. There is an overkill of research. One has to keep working at these models in order to get published and maintain their high-end jobs.