Further suggestions for Krugman’s IS-LM reading list

17 May, 2013 at 14:56 | Posted in Economics | 4 Comments

The determination of investment is a four-stage process in The General Theory. Money and debts determine an “interest rate”; long-term expectations determine the yield – or expected cash flows – from capital assets and current investment (i.e., the capital stock); the yield and the interest rate enter into the determination of the price of capital assets; and investment is carried to the point where the supply price of investment output equals the capitalized value of the yield. The simple IS-LM framework violates the complexity of the investment-determning process as envisaged by Keynes …

minskys keynesbokThe Hicks-Hansen model, by making explicit the interdependence of the commodity and money markets in Keynes’s thought, is a more accurate representation of his views than the simple consumption-function models. Nevertheless, because it did not explicitly consider the significance of uncertainty in both portfolio decisions and investment behavior, and becasue it was an equilibrium rather than a process interpretation of the model, it was an unfair and naïve representation of Keynes’s subtle and sophisticated views …

The journey through various standard models that embody elements derived from The General Theory has led us to the position that such Keynesian models are either trivial (the consumption-function models), incomplete (the IS-LM models without a labor market), inconsistent (the IS-LM models with a labor market but no real-balance effect), or indistinguishable in their results from those of older quantity-theory models (the neoclassical synthesis).

As we all know Paul Krugman is very fond of referring to and defending the old and dear IS-LM model.

John Hicks, the man who invented it in his 1937 Econometrica review of Keynes’ General TheoryMr. Keynes and the ‘Classics’. A Suggested Interpretation – returned to it in an article in 1980 – IS-LM: an explanation – in Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. Self-critically he wrote:

I accordingly conclude that the only way in which IS-LM analysis usefully survives — as anything more than a classroom gadget, to be superseded, later on, by something better – is in application to a particular kind of causal analysis, where the use of equilibrium methods, even a drastic use of equilibrium methods, is not inappropriate …

When one turns to questions of policy, looking toward the future instead of the past, the use of equilibrium methods is still more suspect. For one cannot prescribe policy without considering at least the possibility that policy may be changed. There can be no change of policy if everything is to go on as expected-if the economy is to remain in what (however approximately) may be regarded as its existing equilibrium. It may be hoped that, after the change in policy, the economy will somehow, at some time in the future, settle into what may be regarded, in the same sense, as a new equilibrium; but there must necessarily be a stage before that equilibrium is reached …

It is well known that in later developments of Keynesian theory, the long-term rate of interest (which does figure, excessively, in Keynes’ own presentation and is presumably represented by the r of the diagram) has been taken down a peg from the position it appeared to occupy in Keynes. We now know that it is not enough to think of the rate of interest as the single link between the financial and industrial sectors of the economy; for that really implies that a borrower can borrow as much as he likes at the rate of interest charged, no attention being paid to the security offered. As soon as one attends to questions of security, and to the financial intermediation that arises out of them, it becomes apparent that the dichotomy between the two curves of the IS-LM diagram must not be pressed too hard.

Back in 1937 John Hicks said that he was building a model of John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory. He wasn’t.

What Hicks acknowledges in 1980 – confirming Minsky’s critique – is basically that his original review totally ignored the very core of Keynes’ theory – uncertainty. Ignoring uncertainty, he had actually contributed to turning the train of macroeconomics on the wrong tracks for decades.

It’s about time that neoclassical economists – as Krugman, Mankiw, or what have you – set the record straight and stop promoting something that the creator himself admits was a total failure. Why not study the real thing itself – General Theory – in full and without looking the other way when it comes to non-ergodicity and uncertainty?


  1. Professor Heiner Flassbeck: ” Corporations are sitting on mountains of cash and are unwilling to invest in the real economy – only high taxes on profit will make them do so”
    Heiner Flassbeck talk about his Paul Davidson,Richard Koo,James K. Galbraith and Jayathi Ghosh new book with a new Economic Manifesto.

  2. Economists seem to assume a state of equilibrium a lot. Why is that? Are there good reasons for it?

  3. Try as you might, you are not going to shake Krugman from his IS-LM model. Its his conceptual workhorse.

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