Posts Tagged ‘Post Keynesian’

o-DUCT-TAPE-MOUTH-facebook

No matter how many stories I tell them about thought control in economics, students and colleagues in other disciplines simply don’t believe me.

They don’t understand the restrictions on the professors who are hired in many economics departments, the narrow range of methods and perspectives published in the leading economics journals, the limits on economics research projects that actually receive funding, and even the strict surveillance of what can be taught to students in basic undergraduate and graduate economics classes. It’s beyond their imagination that mainstream economists do all they can—within their departments and in the wider discipline—to make sure other approaches (often referred to as heterodox economics and, often, noneconomics) are displaced to (and, in many cases, beyond) the margins.

So, it comes as no surprise to me—but it probably does to everyone outside of economics—that a senior lecture rat the University of Glasgow, Alberto Paloni [ht: sm], an expert in post-Keynesian theory, has been stopped from teaching a core degree module on macroeconomics.

This, after an essay in the Royal Economic Society newsletter specifically cited Paloni’s course as introducing a necessary pluralism into the teaching of economics:

Examples of courses that successfully incorporate pluralist approaches to teaching economics already exist. For instance, the second year macroeconomics course at Glasgow University acknowledges the existence of alternative perspectives within economics and gives students the tools to contrast the standard macroeconomic theory with post-Keynesian economics. Students are made aware of how different perspectives employ different approaches and reach different conclusions, and asks them to evaluate critically how well theories explain empirical evidence. . .In contrast to Glasgow, most macroeconomics courses teach from a single textbook and teach students to solve problems within models as opposed to comparing different types of models and seeing which generate more credible conclusions.

All Paloni did was teach students some Post Keynesian macroeconomics. Post Keynesian theory, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, focuses on elements of the economic approach inspired by John Maynard Keynes (such as time, radical uncertainty, financial fragility, and so on) that are often domesticated by or simply removed from modern mainstream macroeconomics. Nothing too radical, then—just one among many alternatives to the theory that prevails in economics and, as we now know, the set of approaches and policies got us into the current mess.

Fortunately, the students in the Glasgow University Real World Economics Society decided not to take the decision lying down. So, they initiated a petition that received over 150 signatures and was then passed on to the heads of the Department of Economics and the Adam Smith Business School, respectively, as well as to the Principal of the University of Glasgow.

Here are some excerpts from their petition:

It is with great dismay that we are writing this.

It has recently been decided by the Economics Department at our university to remove Dr Alberto Paloni from teaching the course Economics 2B. . .

Economics 2B is compulsory for undergraduate economists at the University of Glasgow and attended by around 400 students each year. Paloni’s part of the course introduces students to heterodox economics with a focus on post-Keynesian economics. This is often the first, if not only, time that economics students engage with heterodox economics in their academic life. The course receives extraordinary student feedback.

The content of the course will, for now at least, remain unchanged. The teaching of it will be resumed by mainstream economists. Next year, more specifically, it will be taught by Prof Tatiana Kirsanova.

With mainstream economists for half a semester teaching perspectives that are highly critical of what they do, we sincerely fear that the content will be completely removed from the course sooner rather than later. Furthermore, until a potential removal, we fear that the heterodox content will be taught with the attitude that it is irrelevant and/or outright wrong.

The removal of Paloni’s teaching has been decided in the name of promoting research-led teaching. The department wants to (A) have Professors teaching Level 1 and 2 and (B) have the Macroeconomics Research Cluster involved in the course. Paloni belongs to the Finance Research Cluster.

We find these reasons dubious. Firstly, we do not think that it is the case that a professorship leads to a higher teaching quality. Secondly, we do not think that it is necessary to hold a professorship in order to teach the fairly basic content in Economics Level 1 and 2. Thirdly, we think that removing the only post-Keynesian economist in the department from teaching post-Keynesian economics is antithetical to the aim of promoting research-led teaching.

This is another story about thought control in economics I’ll tell in the future—and students and colleagues outside of economics again probably won’t believe me.

 

 

After the crash of 2008, in the midst of the Second Great Depression, students around the world have been calling for radical changes in the way economics is taught. They know that the discipline of economics, today as in the past, includes more than neoclassical economics—but, for the most part, students are not being exposed to concepts and methods other than those of neoclassical economic theory.

There are, of course, a handful of departments where non-mainstream theories have been developed and taught, alongside and in addition to neoclassical (and, for that matter, traditional Keynesian) economics. In the United States, in terms of Ph.D.-granting institutions, they include the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (where I received my degree), American University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Utah, and New School University.

As Aaron Steelman recognizes, that handful also once included the University of Notre Dame. But that is no longer the case, since the current Department of Economics advertises itself as as purely neoclassical department.

Unfortunately, Steelman gets the history wrong.

In 2003, administrators at the University of Notre Dame decided to split the Department of Economics into two: the Department of Economics and Policy Studies (DEPS) and the Department of Economics and Econometrics (DEE). Why the divide? In large part because there were significant differences in methodological approaches and fields of study within the department.

Those who considered themselves within the “mainstream” of the profession, generally using a neoclassical framework to examine issues such as economic growth and industrial organization, tended to move to the DEE. Those whose work was generally considered more “heterodox” or “pluralistic,” employing a variety of methodological approaches to address questions regarding race and gender, inequality, and the development of economic thought, among others, tended to form the nucleus of the DEPS. Less than a decade later, the DEPS was closed by university administrators and what was simply called the Department of Economics emerged again.

Faculty within the DEE tended to neatly fit into the new department, while many faculty members within the DEPS moved to various departments throughout the university.

First, the university administration decided to split the existing department of economics into two not because there were “significant differences in methodological approaches and fields of study within the department.” Those differences had existed for decades, which was precisely one of the strengths of the department. Graduate and undergraduate students, within and across courses, were regularly exposed to and encouraged to think critically about both mainstream (neoclassical and Keynesian) and heterodox (Post Keynesian, radical, Marxian, and institutionalist) approaches to economics. No, the decision was made in order to eliminate the heterodox component of the economics program: by splitting the department in 2003 (and giving all new hires and control over the Ph.D. program to a new department, Economics and Econometrics) and then dissolving the original renamed department (Economics and Policy Studies) in 2010.

Second, there were no particular differences, then or now, in terms of areas of study. Faculty members in the original (pre-2003) department of economics conducted research and taught courses on a wide range of subjects: microeconomics, macroeconomics, labor, development, public policy, industrial organization, and so on. Just as faculty members do now, in the new (post-2010) department of economics. The only difference was students who took courses in the original department were exposed to many different methods and approaches; students today only learn one approach.

Finally, faculty members were not assigned to the two departments in 2003 according to their different methodological approaches. There were plenty of neoclassical economists in Economics and Policy Studies. The sole criterion was how faculty members voted: the 16 members of the original Department of Economics who voted against splitting the department were assigned to Economics and Policy Studies, while the 5 members who voted in favor of splitting the department comprised the nucleus of Economics and Econometrics. In other words, the decision was political not methodological.

That’s how the long tradition of the eclectic, pluralist Notre Dame approach to economics was brought to an end—exactly when students around the world are calling for a new approach to economics education, one that includes a wide range of methods and theories. Students today correctly understand that the neoclassical economics they’re being taught as the only viable approach is both responsible for the crises that broke out in 2007-08 and has had little to offer once the crises broadened and deepened across the world. They want to see what else economics has to offer.

The problem, of course, is that many of their professors either don’t know about those alternative theories and approaches (because they themselves were never exposed to them in graduate school) or simply dismiss them (with the excuse that neoclassical economics is the only game in town if students want to be successful). That’s because most departments don’t offer anything other than neoclassical economics and, as Steelman correctly observes, students from programs that do offer heterodox economics are not hired “into departments at highly ranked research universities.”

All the more reason, then, for economics education to be transformed.

lee

I just received word that Frederic S. Lee, who taught Post Keynesian economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for the past fourteen years, died last night. I first met Fred when he was at Roosevelt University, and we had been in touch (at conferences and presentations as well as through his articles and books on heterodox economics) many times since.

Here’s Fred’s autobiography:

I attended a small state college in Maryland where I majored in history and took a bit of philosophy. After graduating in 1972, I took some more philosophy courses. But then I got interested in economics and began reading books and articles by Smith, Ricardo, Marx, J. B. Clark, Schumpeter, Joan Robinson, Keynes, Kalecki, Sraffa (or at least I tried to) and others. After working in Saudi Arabia for a couple of years, I returned to the States and attended Colombia University (1976-77) where I picked my undergraduate economic courses. While there I read about everything I could find on costs, pricing, the determination of the mark up, and the business enterprise; and the economists I read included Philip Andrews, Adrian Wood, Harcourt, Hall and Hitch and many others. Because I was a Post Keynesian economist (although I did not know it), it was suggested to me that I go talk to an economists called Alfred Eichner. I did so and became part of the Post Keynesian movement. After Colombia, I went to the University of Edinburgh for a year; and then returned to Rutgers University where I got my Ph.D. My teachers included Jan Kregel, Paul Davidson, Nina Shapiro, and Eichner. In my first year, I took an independent study with Kregel and he told me that I should read the Keynes-Harrod letters regarding theGeneral Theory which had just been published. I did so and wrote a paper which became the basis of my first article, “The Oxford Challenge to Marshallian Supply and Demand: The History of the Oxford Economists’ Research Group.” I left Rutgers to take up a one-year teaching position at the University of California-Riverside; and after 3 years there I obtained a tenured position at Roosevelt University in Chicago. In 1990 I went to England where I taught at De Montfort University in Leicester for the next decade. In August 2000 I moved to Kansas City to take up my current at UMKC.

My research interests are Post Keynesian microeconomics, Post Keynesian industrial organization, and the history of economics in the 20th century, with special emphasis on the history of heterodox economics. I am currently writing a monograph on Post Keynesian microeconomic theory. In addition, I am engaged in three other projects, the history of heterodox economics in the United Kingdom since 1945, market governance in the U.S. gunpowder industry, 1865 to 1900, and Congressional response to the problem of corporate size, monopoly and competition, 1945 to 1980. This last project is quite exciting because it enables me to explore the administered price controversy, examine in detail various institutional economists such as Walton Hamilton and John Blair, and examine the way neoclassical economists used their institutional power to suppress heterodox economics.

And here’s a link to his essay, “Predistine to Heterodoxy or How I Became a Heterodox Economist.”

economics-cartoon

You can’t but agree with Mark Thoma’s observation concerning the debate within the dismal science about the Second Great Depression: “There is no single class of macroeconomic models that is best for all questions.”

Sure. Absolutely. There are different models for different questions and problems.

But then Thoma unnecessarily limits the debate to a single choice—between IS/LM and New Keynesian models, between the older type macroeconomic model with non-dynamic money and product markets and the newer models with individual agents guided by rational expectations, various kinds of imperfect markets, and dynamic reactions to external shocks. And he asks for tolerance among the advocates of each type of model for those who use the other type.

The New Keynesian model was built to explain a world of moderate fluctuations in GDP. It features temporary price rigidities, and the macroeconomic aggregates in the model are consistent with the optimizing behavior of individual consumers and producers. For certain types of questions – how should policymakers behave to stabilize an economy with mild fluctuations induced by price rigidities – it is the best model to use. Hence it’s popularity during the “Great Moderation” from 1984-2007 when there were no large shocks to the economy.

The IS-LM model, on the other hand, was built in the aftermath of the Great Depression to examine precisely the kinds of questions we faced throughout the Great Recession, issues such as a liquidity trap, the paradox of thrift, and how policymakers should react in such an environment. Why is it surprising that a model built to explain a particular set of questions does better than a model built to explain other things? Especially when the model is used in a way that incorporates the lessons we’ve learned in the intervening decades about its shortcomings.

OK. But what about all the other models out there, which represent critiques of and alternatives to mainstream economics? Models (from both the Marxian and Post Keynesian traditions) in which the boom and bust cycles of capitalism occur as endogenous events, as a result of the inner workings of a capitalist economy. Why aren’t they included in the choice of appropriate models?

The fact is, macroeconomists have little to offer in terms of understanding either the causes and consequences of the current crises—which, remember, have now been going on for over six years, with no end in sight—much less effective solutions for the economic mess we’re in. Merely tweaking and tinkering with the hydraulic mechanisms of either class of models is simply not going to get us very far.

And we’re going to remain stuck here unless and until we confront the limitations imposed by the dismal choice between the IS/LM and New Keynesian models, which are the only ones mainstream economists teach and use to make sense of what is going in the world today.

econmics-in-crisis1

I don’t understand all the hand-wringing about the lack of consensus among macroeconomists. In my view, there isn’t a consensus and there shouldn’t be.

All kinds of folks are worried about the absence of general agreement within the field of macroeconomics. Mark Thoma, Kevin Drum, Simon Wren-LewisJohn Quiggin, and Noah Smith, among many others, have expressed their concern that there’s no single agreed-upon guide to theory, analysis, and policy among contemporary macroeconomists.

The biggest mistake they make is to assert that the consensus that once existed has fallen apart. Here’s Quiggin:

Clearly there was a consensus as of early 2008. The differences between “saltwater” (former New Keynesian) and “freshwater” (former New Classical/Real Business Cycle) economists had blurred to the point of invisibility. Everyone agreed that the core business of macroeconomic management should be handled by central banks using interest rate adjustments to meet inflation targets. In the background, central banks were assumed to use a Taylor rule to keep both inflation rates and the growth rate of output near their target levels. . .There was no role for active fiscal policy such as stimulus to counter recessions, but it was generally assumed that, with stable policy settings, fiscal policy would have some automatic stabilizing effects (for example, by paying out more in unemployment insurance, and taking less in taxes, during recessions). It was generally agreed that this approach to macroeconomic policy, combined with financial deregulation had produced a ‘Great Moderation’ in the volatility of economic activity, as well as sustainably low and stable inflation. In the academic macro literature, this convergence was represented by Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models, constructed with all the rigor and elegance of a haiku as Olivier Blanchard observed at the time – This broad consensus was destroyed by the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession, but it wasn’t replaced by anything resembling a real debate. Rather, different groups have gone off in different directions.

The fact is, there never was such a consensus. Perhaps, yes, among mainstream macroeconomists—among so-called New Classical and New Keynesian economists, for example—but not among macroeconomists as a whole. Because then you have to leave out all the other practicing economists working on macroeconomic issues, from Marxists and Post Keynesians to radicals and feminists. We never entered into that supposed consensus—not before 2008 and not now.

What these commentators fail to understand is that macroeconomics, like every other area of economics, comprises different theories (or, if you prefer, discourses or paradigms)—with different entry points and methods, and thus different conclusions and consequences.

To argue that there either was or should be a consensus is therefore an argument that, among these contending theories, one or a few dominate the discussion in certain universities, textbooks, journals, funding agencies, and policymaking bodies. It’s an argument, in other words, for hegemony not consensus.

There’s no doubt that the hegemony in and of mainstream macroeconomics before 2008 failed miserably. And mainstream macroeconomists are still trying to pick up the pieces.

But we shouldn’t mistake that failed hegemony for a consensus that existed, much less that it should be put back in place again. Because the rest of us never consented to that set of ideas, and we’re certainly not going to start now.