This lecture has shown that the early Keynesians got a great deal of the working of the economic system right in ways that are denied by the five neutralities. As quoted from Keynes earlier, they based their models on “our knowledge of human nature and from the detailed facts of experience.” They used their intuitions regarding the norms of how consumers, investors, and wage and price setters thought they should behave. There is systematic reason why such knowledge and experience is likely to be accurate: by their nature norms are generated and known by a whole community. They are known to those who abide by them, and those who observe them as well.
We have shown ways in which macroeconomic variables will be affected by norms. The neutralities say that consumption should have no special dependence on current income; investment should be independent of current cash flow; wages and prices should not depend on nominal considerations. The very construction of those neutralities denies the possibility that peoples’ decisions might be influenced by their views regarding how they, and how others, should behave. However, in practice, the neutralities are systematically violated. Insofar as economists have felt it necessary to explain these violations they have appealed to a variety of different frictions, such as myopia and credit constraint. In so doing they have failed to consider that those violations would occur even in the absence of those frictions: they will occur because of decision-makers’ norms.
The incorporation of norms based on careful observation imparts an appropriate balance to macroeconomics. The New Classical research program was correct in viewing models of the early Keynesians as too primitive. They had not been sufficiently attentive to the role of human intent in choices regarding consumption, investment, wages and prices. But that research program itself has failed to appreciate the extent to which the Keynesians’ views of macroeconomics were also reflective of reality, since they were based on experience and observation.
A macroeconomics with norms in decision makers’ objective functions combines the best features of the two approaches. It allows for observations regarding how people think they should behave. It also takes due account of the purposefulness of human decisions.
As I have said in past posts, I am not a macroeconomist. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that Charles Manski has an enormous influence over how I think about economic issues, and so I worry about the reflection problem and identification. When I see Chicago-style macro-analysis, I see reflection problems and identification issues everywhere. I also see excuses ("it's all about frictions") when totemic hypotheses are tested against data, and fail. And when I see Chicago macroeconomists defending themselves now, the argument takes the form of "all reputable economics agree," which to me sounds very much like "every one I agree with agrees with me."
Keynes' analysis had a richness that is missing from much modern macro, and let's face it, he probably made the most spot-on macroeconomic forecast of the 20th Century.