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Simon Wren-Lewis

To understand the position of Keynes's The General Theory today, and why so many policy-makers felt they had to go back to it to understand the Great Recession, we need to understand the New Classical Counter Revolution (NCCR), and why it was so successful. This revolution can be seen as having two strands. The first, which attempted to replace Keynesian policy, failed. The second, which was to change the way academic macroeconomics was done, was successful. Before the NCCR, macroeconomics was an intensely empirical discipline: something made possible by the developments in statistics and econometrics inspired by The General Theory. After the NCCR and its emphasis on microfoundations, it became much more deductive.

As a result, most academic macroeconomists today would see the foundation of their discipline as not coming from The General Theory, but as coming from basic microeconomic theory – arguably the ‘classical theory’ that Keynes was so keen to cast aside. Students are also taught that pre-NCCR methods of analysing the economy are fatally flawed, and that simulating DSGE models is the only proper way of doing policy analysis. This is simply wrong. The problem with the NCCR was not the emergence of microfoundations modelling, which is a progressive research programme, but that it discouraged the methods of analysis that had flourished after The General Theory. I argue that, had there been more academic interest in these alternative forms of analysis, the discipline would have been better prepared ahead of the financial crisis.