A Macroeconomics Reader

By Brian Snowdon; Howard R. Vane | Go to book overview

11

After Keynesian macroeconomics

Robert E. Lucas and Thomas J. Sargent

After the Phillips Curve: Persistence of High Inflation and High Unemployment (1978) Boston, MA: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, pp. 49-72


INTRODUCTION

For the applied economist, the confident and apparently successful application of Keynesian principles to economic policy which occurred in the United States in the 1960s was an event of incomparable significance and satisfaction. These principles led to a set of simple, quantitative relationships between fiscal policy and economic activity generally, the basic logic of which could be (and was) explained to the general public, and which could be applied to yield improvements in economic performance benefiting everyone. It seemed an economics as free of ideological difficulties as, say, applied chemistry or physics, promising a straightforward expansion in economic possibilities. One might argue about how this windfall should be distributed, but it seemed a simple lapse of logic to oppose the windfall itself. Understandably and correctly, this promise was met at first with skepticism by non-economists; the smoothly growing prosperity of the Kennedy-Johnson years did much to diminish these doubts.

We dwell on these halcyon days of Keynesian economics because, without conscious effort, they are difficult to recall today. In the 1970s, the US economy has undergone its first major depression since the 1930s, to the accompaniment of inflation rates in excess of 10 percent per annum. These events have been transmitted (by consent of the governments involved) to other advanced countries and in many cases have been amplified. These events did not arise from a reactionary reversion to outmoded, ‘classical’ principles of tight money and balanced budgets. On the contrary, they were accompanied by massive governmental budget deficits and high rates of monetary expansion: policies which, although bearing an admitted risk of inflation, promised according to modern Keynesian doctrine rapid real growth and low rates of unemployment.

That these predictions were wildly incorrect, and that the doctrine on which they were based is fundamentally flawed, are now simple matters of fact, involving no novelties in economic theory. The task which faces contemporary students of the business cycle is that of sorting through the wreckage, determining which features of that remarkable intellectual event

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