Monday, May 30, 2011

MIT Macro Panel: Conservatism in the Field

Robert Solow is one of the legends of the field, and he spoke at the Macroeconomics Panel at the MIT 150 Economics Symposium I posted about last week. He talked about the Keynesian foundations that were dominant in 1950-1970. Their development was originally based on observing empirical events. Then, in the 1970's with the oil shocks, macro lost a lot of credibility, and conservative ideology gained a strong foothold in the field. Also, there was a stronger motivation to move away from event-driven analysis and towards theoretical (mathematical) neatness.

It seems that conservatism and theoretical neatness still dominates the field today, although I wonder if the time is ripe for another shift. Even if it is, in practice, it seems that macroeconomists really only have two tools at their disposal, which is setting the interest rate and recommend fiscal policy. Even then, the only one economists have direct control over is setting the interest rate.

It is possible there are other tools that can be developed. There was a discussion on the panel about future research in macroeconomics. Better understanding the components of total factor productivity was one of them. There are two approaches which are to endogenize human capital or technological development (or both). Understanding how to model technological growth would be important for developing responsible environmental economies. However, there are also more direct ways to do that, such as researching the effectiveness of policies that promote environmental technological development.

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