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Will the financial crisis lead to another revolution in macroeconomics?

From Mainly Macro by Simon Wren-Lewis:

This question was prompted both by an earlier post, and by reading Martin Wolf’s excellent 2013 Wincott Memorial lecture. (The response by Robert Skidelsky is also worth reading.) In the lecture he in characteristic style tries to demolish the idea that we have permanently lost a large amount of productive potential, and also argues that we need to fundamentally rethink the role of the financial sector. Bravo to that. He also says that the financial crisis “calls for an intellectual upheaval reminiscent of the response to depression in 1930s and then to inflation in the 1970s.” It is this last idea that I want to explore here.

That the depression led to Keynesian economics, and that this revolutionised macroeconomics, cannot be disputed. If the great inflation of the 1970s did a similar thing, then we might indeed expect something similar to follow from the financial crisis of 2007-9. Yet it is far from clear to me that it did. It greatly increased, for a while, the popularity of monetarism, but in theoretical terms that was hardly revolutionary (it used IS-LM), and its popularity died out pretty quickly. The adoption of monetary policy as the stabilisation tool of choice owed something to monetarism, but it probably owed much more to the move to flexible exchange rates when Bretton Woods collapsed. Friedman’s reinterpretation of the Phillips curve was important, but it was not revolutionary.
There was a revolution in macroeconomics in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was a counter revolution, as the name New Classical implies. It was essentially a revolution inspired by theory (rational expectations, and microfoundations more generally), rather than external events. There is no obvious link with the great inflation of the 1970s. Indeed, the RBC model that embodied most of the ideas of that revolution had essentially nothing to say about inflation.

So, in this straightforward sense, the great inflation of the 1970s did not lead to a revolution in macroeconomic thought. This suggests that there is no inevitability that the financial crisis will lead to any revolution in macroeconomics. Everyone admits that mainstream macro analysis took finance for granted before the crash, and those economists that did worry about such things were marginalised. (I would want to add Greenwald and Stiglitz to the usual list.) But now ‘financial frictions modelling’ is the growth area within the discipline. However this explosion of work does not appear revolutionary, but just another example of adding particular ‘frictions’ or ‘market imperfections’ to standard models.


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