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Edited by John B. Davis, Alain Marciano and Jochen Runde
Chapter 12: Rhetoric and Postmodernism in Economics
12 Rhetoric and postmodernism in economics Robert F. Garnett, Jr. Introduction In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the scientiﬁc conﬁdence of American economists seemed unshakable (Bernstein 1999; Morgan and Rutherford 1998; Stein 1996). College students were learning from Paul Samuelson’s Economics (1964) that business cycles were a thing of the past. Professional economists were hearing similar pronouncements from leading theorists such as Samuelson’s MIT colleague, Robert Solow: Most economists [now] feel that short-run macroeconomic theory is pretty well in hand. … The basic outlines of the dominant theory have not changed in years. All that is left is the trivial job of ﬁlling in the empty boxes, and that will not take more than 50 years of concentrated effort at maximum. (Solow, cited in Hahn and Brechling 1965, p. 146) Samuelson and Solow were chief architects of this ‘dominant theory,’ a neoclassical-Keynesian synthesis that was hailed as the grand uniﬁcation theory of modern economics, a marriage of neoclassical microeconomics and Keynesian macroeconomics that promised to bring ﬁnal, scientiﬁc closure to lingering debates over the causes and implications of the Great Depression. The 1961 appointment of Solow and two other neoclassical-Keynesians to President Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisers and the famous success of their 1963 tax cut signaled the arrival of economics as a policy science. It also shifted arguments for American supremacy from the old-fashioned moralism of the McCarthy period to the progressive notion that U.S. economic engineers were better equipped...
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