12 Aug 2013

Krugman Sees the Light

Paul Krugman, Noble Prize winner and influential US economist, has called time on Neoclassical Economics, which might be the turning point in the insane experiment with laissez-faire markets. This seems to me to be a very significant moment in history. The call comes in his New York Times Blog under the title "Synthesis Lost".
"So the neoclassical synthesis — the idea that we can use monetary and fiscal policy to make the world safe for laissez-faire everywhere else — has failed the test." 
"At the very least it means that we need “macroprudential” policies — regulations and taxes designed to limit the risk of crisis — even during good years, because we now know that we can’t count on an effective cleanup when crisis strikes. " [emphasis added]
This is a huge admission of failure on the part of Neoclassical Economics since the Reagan/Thatcher era. The deregulation of finance created a dangerous situation that lead to economic crisis and made it much more difficult to deal with it when it happened.

Having helped to recreat the conditions for the Great Depression one of the mainstream has admitted that it simply lead to disaster all over again, and that the impulse to put controls in place in the post-war years was the right one.

Lest we forget the post-war years were years of steadily growing prosperity and a lack of economic instability, and the contrast with the present could hardly be more stark. The UK started off with massive debts and a lot of damage to repair. And it responded by building: houses, roads, the NHS. And it paid off those debts. There were no recessions from 1945 to 1973. Yes, there were problems, by the end of that period, but they were not because of the controls, but in spite of them.

This opens the door to wider public debate of the alternatives and opens up the possibility of real change in the way we run our economy. This is the first genuinely optimistic news I have read about the economy since I started taking an interest in it a couple of years ago.

Other Responses

Duncan Weldon. Political Economy Trumps Macroeconomics.
"Yesterday Paul Krugman wrote [one] of the most significant blog posts on economics I’ve ever read."
"Essentially Krugman’s (and indeed Kalecki’s) point is this – we have the macroeconomic tools to restart a robust recovery and get unemployment down but these tools are not being used for political reasons." 

Dan Kervick. Escaping from the Friedman Paradigm.
"Aspects of Friedman’s macroeconomics might be in trouble; but Friedman’s broader paradigm for political economy is still, regrettably, too much with us. In fact, Krugman himself doesn’t seem to have moved much outside that paradigm, as I will try to show."
"What Krugman might have pursued further here [but didn't] is that not only have Friedman’s views about central bank policy been proven wrong, but his broader views on the decisive role of monetary aggregates and monetary policy on economic activity are flawed as well." 
"On the whole, [Krugman's] view seems to be that central bank management of macroeconomic affairs is effective except in the unique circumstances of a liquidity trap."
"Krugman...is working within a framework that is based on a natural real equilibrium rate of interest." [Which is to say that he still accepts the idea that aspects of the economy will tend towards an equilibrium value. This central assumption of Neoclassical economics is demonstrably wrong. Complex systems, like national economies or weather, do not tend to equilibrium at all.]
"So, in substantial measure, Krugman embraces the Friedman paradigm prescribing central bank direction of macroeconomic policy, but has sought to repair the flaws in that paradigm with the addition of a few epicycles." 
Matias Vernengo. Krugman on Friedman, Austrians, and Paradise Lost.
The Neoclassical Synthesis, was based on Hicks ISLM and Modigliani's fixed wages. The fundamental idea is that with wage flexibility the system would lead to full employment, a proposition that Keynes denied in the General Theory.

John Quiggin. Krugman, Keynes, Kalecki, Konczal. Crooked Timber.
"Still, this marks a striking shift in macroeconomics, where only five years ago, the leading figures were congratulating themselves on the convergence between saltwater and freshwater schools, under the banner of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium. As I argued in Zombie Economics, it’s precisely the centre ground of convergence that has been rendered most thoroughly untenable by the crisis. Yet that is still where the majority of academic work being published in journals is grounded."

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Keep is seemly & on-topic. Thanks.