Thursday, April 21, 2016

Gerald Friedman — Why Liberal Economists Dish Out Despair

The angry reaction to my report [about Bernie Sander's economic program] revealed that by some combination of rationalization and the dominance of neoclassical microeconomics since the 1970s, liberal economists have virtually abandoned Keynesian economics, which supported the notion that governments can and must intervene in the economy to ensure the best results for society. These economists went back to pre-Keynesian thinking, where price fluctuations are supposed to equilibrate supply and demand at full employment with an optimal distribution of good and services. The very suggestion that government action can result in increases in growth rates or wages is now taken to be obviously wrong. Adopting the language of neoclassical micro welfare economics, everything is already as good as can be — all that government can do is to make it worse. Criticisms of the orthodox model and its policies are deemed worthy of scorn, to be dismissed tout court because they are obviously at variance not only with textbook economics, but with what we need to believe to rationalize failure.
The reaction to my paper — the casual and precipitous conclusion that it must be wrong because it projects a sharply higher rate of GDP growth — comes from the assumption that the economy is already at full employment and capacity output. It is assumed that were output significantly below full employment, then prices would fall to equilibrate the two. This is the political counsel of despair. It is based on classical economic theory and the underlying acceptance of Say’s Law of Markets (named for the great Classical economist Jean-Baptiste Say), which says that total supply of goods and services and the total demand for goods and services will always be equal. The shoe market creates the right amount of demand for shoes — it works out so neatly that the true measure of the supply of shoes, of potential output, can be taken by measuring actual output. This concept is used as a justification for laissez-faire economics, and the view that the market mechanism finds a harmonious equilibrium. It explains why even in the depths of the economic crisis, Christina Romer, former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration, who was always skeptical of fiscal policy and Keynesian economics, and why Jared Bernstein, former Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden under Obama, who should have known better, wrote that the economy would return on its own to full employment. They predicted, quite wrongly, that the proposed Obama stimulus would accelerate this recovery by 6 months.
The return of Say’s Law has distorted the way liberal policy elites view the economy.… This reevaluation says to policy elites, “Hey, we are doing as well as can be expected.” To the general public it says, “Sorry, nothing more can be done for you.” TINA.…
Controversy reflects the disagreements and uncertainty that alone can lead to intellectual progress. It is time to inject some of these into orthodox macroeconomics. We have been ill-served by a smugly sure macroeconomics both in imagination and policy. Amazingly, the crisis of 2007-9 has left intact the dominant pseudo-Keynesian orthodoxy; maybe the kerfuffle around my report will help to open some space for constructive dialog in a profession that has clearly grown too complacent. 
Why Liberal Economists Dish Out Despair 
Gerald Friedman | Professor of Economics, UMass, Amherst

See also at INET

The Road not Taken (about Axel Leijonhufvud)
Arjun Jayadev


Ryan Harris said...

Agents experience shocks then return to equilibrium.


Useless Ideas for the Trash bin.

Calgacus said...

Note Friedman-Mason Version 4.0? a reaction to this. Illustrates one of the many important points Leijonhufvud makes in his very interesting & important interview & papers linked.

The author displays complete unawareness that the economics of most "Keynesian" economists has little to do with what the man said, and is much more indebted to, a continuation of, what he was criticizing - to the point the author calls Friedman absurd & dishonest for stating the obvious. Interesting, too how even some Marxists are more or less on the irrationally pessimistic anti-Friedman side.