New Keynesianism – what a gross misnomer!

27 Nov, 2011 at 13:08 | Posted in Economics, Theory of Science & Methodology | Comments Off on New Keynesianism – what a gross misnomer!

Back in 1994 Laurence Ball and Greg Mankiw argued that

although traditionalists are often called ‘new Keynesians,’ this label is a misnomer. They could just as easily be called ‘new monetarists.’

That is still true today. New Keynesianism is a gross misnomer. The macroeconomics of people like Greg Mankiw has a lot to do with Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas and Thomas Sargent – and very little, or next to nothing, to do with the founder of macroeconomics, John Maynard Keynes.

In a more recent paper on modern macroeconomics, Greg Mankiw writes:

The real world of macroeconomic policymaking can be disheartening for those of us who have spent most of our careers in academia. The sad truth is that the macroeconomic research of the past three decades has had only minor impact on the practical analysis of monetary or fiscal policy. The explanation is not that economists in the policy arena are ignorant of recent developments. Quite the contrary: The staff of the Federal Reserve includes some of the best young Ph.D.’s, and the Council of Economic Advisers under both Democratic and Republican administrations draws talent from the nation’s top research universities. The fact that modern macroeconomic research is not widely used in practical policymaking is prima facie evidence that it is of little use for this purpose. The research may have been successful as a matter of science, but it has not contributed significantly to macroeconomic engineering.

So, then what is the raison d’être of macroeconomics, if it has nothing to say about the real world and the economic problems out there?

The final court of appeal for macroeconomic models is the real world, and as long as no convincing justification is put forward for how the inferential bridging de facto is made, macroeconomic modelbuilding is little more than “hand waving” that give us rather little warrant for making inductive inferences from models to real world target systems. If substantive questions about the real world are being posed, it is the formalistic-mathematical representations utilized to analyze them that have to match reality, not the other way around. As Keynes has it:

Economics is a science of thinking in terms of models joined to the art of choosing models which are relevant to the contemporary world. It is compelled to be this, because, unlike the natural science, the material to which it is applied is, in too many respects, not homogeneous through time.

If macoeconomic models – no matter of what ilk –  assume 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. Macroeconomic theorists – regardless of being “New Monetarist”, “New Classical” or “New Keynesian” – ought to do some ontological reflection and heed Keynes’ warnings on using  thought-models in economics:

The object of our analysis is, not to provide a machine, or method of blind manipulation, which will furnish an infallible answer, but to provide ourselves with an organized and orderly method of thinking out particular problems; and, after we have reached a provisional conclusion by isolating the complicating factors one by one, we then have to go back on ourselves and allow, as well as we can, for the probable interactions of the factors amongst themselves. This is the nature of economic thinking. Any other way of applying our formal principles of thought (without which, however, we shall be lost in the wood) will lead us into error.

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