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Views differ on shape of macroeconomics

I’ll mostly weigh in on Brad DeLong’s side with regard to this Economist piece on the state of macroeconomics. The Economist reaches, I think, for a false symmetry, and glosses over too easily the sheer ignorance that has become obvious in the debates over fiscal policy.

On the other hand, the common claim that economists ignored the financial side and the risks of crisis seems not quite fair — at least from where I sit. In international macro, one of my two home fields, we’ve worried about and tried to analyze crises a lot. Especially after the Asian crisis of 1997-98, financial crises were very much on everyone’s mind. There was a substantial empirical literature from economists like Carmen Reinhart and Graciela Kaminsky (with Ken Rogoff joining in latterly); there was modeling from Guillermo Calvo, Jose Andres (grrr) Velasco, Nouriel Roubini, Paolo Pesenti, and others, including yours truly.

Speaking for myself, I saw the housing bubble and expected the bust; but I hadn’t appreciated in advance either the vulnerability of the shadow banking system or the leverage of American consumers. Once the crisis was underway, however, I had a more or less ready-made intellectual framework to accommodate these revelations: at a meta level, this was very much the same kind of crisis as Indonesia 1998 or Argentina 2002.

Domestic macro people may have been more astonished by what happened. But the prevailing trend now is to assert that there are more risks in the economy than were dreamed of in our philosophy; I don’t think that’s fair.


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