The vast majority of economists are Keynesian

I will preface this with my own invention, the National Accounting Stimulus Trap, which is built around Y=C+I+G. An increase in public spending will, inevitably, show up as an increase in Y because that is how the accounts are designed. A fall in public spending will inevitably show up as a fall in Y, for exactly the same reason. If you think that the real effects of a change in policy can ever be detected in less than a year, you have to be blind to the basics.

Which brings me to a blog post by Simon Wren-Lewis, University of Oxford, with the title, The academic consensus on the impact of austerity. The consensus is negative; most economists are either Old or New Keynesians:

Unfortunately we do not have a great deal of information on what academic economists as a whole think about austerity, but we do have two important survey results which are pretty conclusive. In the US, there is the IFM Forum, which regularly asks a group of distinguished economists – including many macroeconomists – their views on key policy issues. The last poll I have seen suggests that 82% of that panel thought the 2009 Obama stimulus had reduced unemployment, while only 2% disagreed. In the UK, the CFM survey asked a similar question to a smaller group of academic economists, most of whom are macroeconomists. Only 15% agreed that the austerity policies of the coalition government have had a positive effect on aggregate economic activity, while 66% disagreed. That consensus is not universal – it would not apply in Germany for example – but I doubt if anyone would disagree when I say that US economists call the shots as far as academic macroeconomics is concerned.

This is why economists the world over continue to teach Keynesian macro to undergraduates, and normally not as one ‘school of thought’ but rather as an initial approximation of how the economy actually works. As Amartya Sen so forcefully reminds us, the experience of the last hundred years has earned Keynesian theory this central role.

There’s more of the same:

We have another, more indirect, source of evidence. If you asked whether there was a standard model for analysing the business cycle among economists in academia and in policy making institutions, the answer would have to be the New Keynesian model. I want to include economists in central banks in particular because they have to put theories of the business cycle into practice on a regular basis. The key macromodels that central banks use to forecast and to analyse policy are Keynesian, and many are New Keynesian. [his italics]

And I have to give you this, which is a jargon-filled sentence of such raw stupidity that it amazes me that anyone can write such a nauseating sentence with such smug certitude given how anaemic the American “recovery” has been:

This is why, among economists with expertise, there is a clear majority view that fiscal austerity is significantly contractionary in a liquidity trap.

No economy that has had a stimulus applied has recovered in any interesting sense. The business cycle is cyclical. Every downturn turns up. Nothing falls forever. But if you are going to call the present pathetic example of a recovery a serious upturn, I will merely point out that you have not got a clue.

For more of the same, go here.

Economists and the stimulus – a five years after review

The Global Financial Crisis ended in the middle of 2009 at the very latest. A big explosion followed by the TARP and then nothing. Wherever your economy was by June that year, that was all there was. Not good but also not the Great Depression either. But also around the end of 2008 and then into 2009 there were the various Keynesian demand programs put in place that are the actual problem we face today. Credit is available and can be had and at relatively low rates. No one is in fear of some financial explosion, at least not in any serious way. Everyone is wary but no one is desperate.

The problem now is debt and deficits. Every economy is very quiet. Nowhere is there robust growth and a rapid return to full employment. Our economies are struggling to rebuild with no exception of any importance that I can think of although there is, as always, a range of outcomes. So we come to this survey on government policy conducted in the US. First there was this:

Question A: Because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus bill.

For me, an unbending Strongly Disagree. That our economies would go flat and the labour market would stop dead were straightforward, but I don’t use a Keynesian model. These were the actual results:

Strongly agree             39%
Agree                          43%
Uncertain                      0%
Disagree                       2%
Strongly disagree          0%

But then they asked this:

Question B: Taking into account all of the ARRA’s economic consequences — including the economic costs of raising taxes to pay for the spending, its effects on future spending, and any other likely future effects — the benefits of the stimulus will end up exceeding its costs.

You might perhaps argue that the net effect on jobs was positive even if the cost to the economy was massive. This is the true test of economic idiocy and on this they abysmally failed. These were the expert opinions:

Strongly agree             20%
Agree                          36%
Uncertain                      23%
Disagree                       5%
Strongly disagree          0%

Only one in twenty disagreed and that was only mildly. There is no understanding these results other than the impossibility of even understanding why there might be a problem trying to encourage economic growth from the demand side.