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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Great Recession: A Macroeconomic Earthquake

Larry Christiano on why the Great Recession happened, why it lasted so long, why it wasn't foreseen, and how it’s changing macroeconomic theory (the excerpt below is about the last of these, how it's changing theory):

The Great Recession: A Macroeconomic Earthquake, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis: ...Impact on macroeconomics The Great Recession is having an enormous impact on macroeconomics as a discipline, in two ways. First, it is leading economists to reconsider two theories that had largely been discredited or neglected. Second, it has led the profession to find ways to incorporate the financial sector into macroeconomic theory.

Neglected paradigms
At its heart, the narrative described above characterizes the Great Recession as the response of the economy to a negative shock to the demand for goods all across the board. This is very much in the spirit of the traditional macroeconomic paradigm captured by the famous IS-LM (or Hicks-Hansen) model,9 which places demand shocks like this at the heart of its theory of business cycle fluctuations. Similarly, the paradox-of-thrift argument10 is also expressed naturally in the IS-LM model.

 The IS-LM paradigm, together with the paradox of thrift and the notion that a decision by a group of people11 could give rise to a welfare-reducing drop in output, had been largely discredited among professional macroeconomists since the 1980s. But the Great Recession seems impossible to understand without invoking paradox-of-thrift logic and appealing to shocks in aggregate demand. As a consequence, the modern equivalent of the IS-LM model— the New Keynesian model—has returned to center stage.12 (To be fair, the return of the IS-LM model began in the late 1990s, but the Great Recession dramatically accelerated the process.)

The return of the dynamic version of the IS-LM model is revolutionary because that model is closely allied with the view that the economic system can sometimes become dysfunctional, necessitating some form of government intervention. This is a big shift from the dominant view in the macroeconomics profession in the wake of the costly high inflation of the 1970s. Because that inflation was viewed as a failure of policy, many economists in the 1980s were comfortable with models that imply markets work well by themselves and government intervention is typically unproductive.

Accounting for the financial sector
The Great Recession has had a second important effect on the practice of macroeconomics. Before the Great Recession, there was a consensus among professional macroeconomists that dysfunction in the financial sector could safely be ignored by macroeconomic theory. The idea was that what happens on Wall Street stays on Wall Street—that is, it has as little impact on the economy as what happens in Las Vegas casinos. This idea received support from the U.S. experiences in 1987 and the early 2000s, when the economy seemed unfazed by substantial stock market volatility. But the idea that financial markets could be ignored in macroeconomics died with the Great Recession.

Now macroeconomists are actively thinking about the financial system, how it interacts with the broader economy and how it should be regulated. This has necessitated the construction of new models that incorporate finance, and the models that are empirically successful have generally integrated financial factors into a version of the New Keynesian model, for the reasons discussed above. (See, for example, Christiano, Motto and Rostagno 2014.)

Economists have made much progress in this direction, too much to summarize in this brief essay. One particularly notable set of advances is seen in recent research by Mark Gertler, Nobuhiro Kiyotaki and Andrea Prestipino. (See Gertler and Kiyotaki 2015 and Gertler, Kiyotaki and Prestipino 2016.) In their models, banks finance long-term assets with short- term liabilities. This liquidity mismatch between assets and liabilities captures the essential reason that real world financial institutions are vulnerable to runs. As such, the model enables economists to think precisely about the narrative described above (and advocated by Bernanke 2010 and others) about what launched the Great Recession in 2007. Refining models of this kind is essential for understanding the root causes of severe economic downturns and for designing regulatory and other policies that can prevent a recurrence of disasters like the Great Recession.

    Posted by on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 10:57 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Methodology | Permalink  Comments (54)


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