Chicago economics delirium VSOP

26 Nov, 2017 at 13:24 | Posted in Economics | 3 Comments


lucasbob-1Macroeconomics was born as a distinct field in the 1940s (sic!), as a part of the intellectual response to the Great Depression. The term then referred to the body of knowledge and expertise that we hoped would prevent the recurrence of that economic disaster. My thesis in this lecture is that macroeconomics in this original sense has succeeded: Its central problem of depression-prevention has been solved, for all practical purposes, and has in fact been solved for many decades.

Robert Lucas (2003)

In the past, I think you have been quoted as saying that you don’t even believe in the possibility of bubbles.

eugeneEugene Fama: I never said that. I want people to use the term in a consistent way. For example, I didn’t renew my subscription to The Economist because they use the world bubble three times on every page. Any time prices went up and down—I guess that is what they call a bubble. People have become entirely sloppy. People have jumped on the bandwagon of blaming financial markets. I can tell a story very easily in which the financial markets were a casualty of the recession, not a cause of it.

That’s your view, correct?

Fama: Yeah.

John Cassidy

The purported strength of Chicago — New Classical — macroeconomics is that it has firm anchorage in preference-based microeconomics, and especially that the decisions are taken by inter-temporal utility maximizing ‘forward-loooking’ individuals.

To some of us, however, this has come at too high a price. The almost quasi-religious insistence that macroeconomics has to have microfoundations — without ever presenting neither ontological nor epistemological justifications for this claim — has put a blind eye to the weakness of the whole enterprise of trying to depict a complex economy based on an all-embracing representative actor equipped with superhuman knowledge, forecasting abilities and forward-looking rational expectations.

That anyone should take that kind of stuff seriously is totally and unbelievably ridiculous. Or as Robert Solow has it:

4703325Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to me that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing I want to do with him is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the battle of Austerlitz. If I do that, I’m getting tacitly drawn into the game that he is Napoleon. Now, Bob Lucas and Tom Sargent like nothing better than to get drawn into technical discussions, because then you have tacitly gone along with their fundamental assumptions; your attention is attracted away from the basic weakness of the whole story. Since I find that fundamental framework ludicrous, I respond by treating it as ludicrous – that is, by laughing at it – so as not to fall into the trap of taking it seriously and passing on to matters of technique.

Robert Solow


  1. Rational expectations predicts arbitrage will be eliminated, but it has persisted for nine years in the violation of Covered Interest Parity. The biggest players in markets are not bound by Rational expectation constraints …

  2. And Lucas predessor,

    Milton Friedman: a study in failure by
    Richard Adams :

    “And Friedman’s one success? In 1942, during world war two, Friedman actually went to work for the US government. While there he helped design the payroll tax that in Britain is known as PAYE, Pay As You Earn, and in the US as withholding tax, the system that allows the government to administer the taking of income tax directly from salaries and pay packets. Unlike everything else he argued for, withholding tax was withstood the test of time and is in use all around the world. It was the best thing that Keynesian-style government could ever have wished for, and Friedman bitterly regretted it. In his memoirs he wrote:

    It never occurred to me at the time that I was helping to develop machinery that would make possible a government that I would come to criticize severely as too large, too intrusive, too destructive of freedom. Yet, that is precisely what I was doing. [My wife] Rose has repeatedly chided me over the years about the role that I played in making possible the current overgrown government we both criticize so strongly.

    Friedman also railed long and hard for school vouchers to be adopted, to little avail, and his libertarian leanings provoked him to call for recreational drugs and prostitution to be legalised. He lobbied against environmental protection and regulations of all kinds, the vast majority of which were happily ignored by his friends and enemies. Even the economic reforms in Pinochet’s Chile he is said to have inspired have run into trouble.

    Friedman’s first big role as a policy advisor came in 1964 to Barry Goldwater – the least successful Republican presidential candidate in the last 100 years. His next gig was for Richard Nixon – an unsuccessful president in a different way – although Nixon ignored him when it mattered, except when he could use Friedman as cover for politically difficult decisions, such as ending compulsory military service.

    Rest in peace Milton Friedman, big government’s best friend.” 🙂

    • “his libertarian leanings provoked him to call for recreational drugs and prostitution to be legalised.”

      If he had been successful in this call, I wonder if I couldn’t forgive his other faults, because I could escape his valuations of my character. As it is neoliberals have left no legal way out.

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