Home > Uncategorized > ‘New Keynesianism’ — the art of making relevance irrelevant

‘New Keynesianism’ — the art of making relevance irrelevant

from Lars Syll

kThere really is something about the way macroeconomists construct their models nowadays that obviously doesn’t sit right.

Empirical evidence still only plays a minor role in mainstream economic theory, where models largely function as a substitute for empirical evidence. One might have hoped that humbled by the manifest failure of its theoretical pretences during the latest economic-financial crises, the one-sided, almost religious, insistence on axiomatic-deductivist modeling as the only scientific activity worthy of pursuing in economics would give way to methodological pluralism based on ontological considerations rather than formalistic tractability. That has, so far, not happened.

Fortunately — when you’ve got tired of the kind of macroeconomic apologetics produced by ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomists and other DSGE modellers — there still are some real Keynesian macroeconomists to read. One of them — Axel Leijonhufvud — writes:

For many years now, the main alternative to Real Business Cycle Theory has been a somewhat loose cluster of models given the label of New Keynesian theory. New Keynesians adhere on the whole to the same DSGE modeling technology as RBC macroeconomists but differ in the extent to which they emphasise inflexibilities of prices or other contract terms as sources of shortterm adjustment problems in the economy. The ‘New Keynesian’ label refers back to the ‘rigid wages’ brand of Keynesian theory of 40 or 50 years ago. Except for this stress on inflexibilities this brand of contemporary macroeconomic theory has basically nothing Keynesian about it …

I conclude that dynamic stochastic general equilibrium theory has shown itself an intellectually bankrupt enterprise. But this does not mean that we should revert to the old Keynesian theory that preceded it (or adopt the New Keynesian theory that has tried to compete with it). What we need to learn from Keynes … are about how to view our responsibilities and how to approach our subject.

If macroeconomic models — no matter of what ilk — build on microfoundational assumptions of representative actors, rational expectations, market clearing and equilibrium, and we know that real people and markets cannot be expected to obey these assumptions, the warrants for supposing that conclusions or hypothesis of causally relevant mechanisms or regularities can be bridged, are obviously non-justifiable. Incompatibility between actual behaviour and the behaviour in macroeconomic models building on representative actors and rational expectations-microfoundations is not a symptom of ‘irrationality’. It rather shows the futility of trying to represent real-world target systems with models flagrantly at odds with reality.

A gadget is just a gadget — and no matter how brilliantly silly DSGE models you come up with, they do not help us working with the fundamental issues of modern economies. Using DSGE models only confirms Robert Gordon‘s  dictum that today

rigor competes with relevance in macroeconomic and monetary theory, and in some lines of development macro and monetary theorists, like many of their colleagues in micro theory, seem to consider relevance to be more or less irrelevant.

  1. ghholtham
    January 8, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    Well, I think we’re all violently agreeing about this. I don’t suppose it does any harm to keep repeating it, though it would be better directed at Chicago than this blog. The big question is: where next?

    • January 9, 2020 at 1:03 pm

      Personally I found the para beginning “If microeconomic models” incoherent. Where we need to go next is to recognise that the aim of the economic theory paid for by financiers is about the single aim of making money, and it is not so much irrelevant to that aim as unreliable, because other people in the system have different aims like organising firms, managing projects and maintaining families, for which money is merely instrumental. Hence the need for a conceptual revolution inverting this sequence: letting individuals make their own money by buying on credit as needed, to enable themselves to fulfil their own aims and (to sustain their credit-worthiness) help others maintain our environment. Finance is then accountancy.

  2. Helen Sakho
    January 8, 2020 at 10:15 pm

    What and where next indeed? That was and it remains the big questions. What is irrelevant is that we seem to be repeating ourselves over and over without really ever addressing the burning issues of our planet and all that has gone wrong with all that it contains. One assumes that one is preaching to the converted (mostly) so shall refrain from repeating the issues.

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