Oct 8, 2011

What if Everything We Know About Economic Policy Is Wrong?

Abstract: Like other sciences, economics shows long periods of gradual refinement of theory and the steady accretion of empirical evidence, punctuated by the occasional sea change in world views. Thus the history of economic thought and practice reveals distinctive eras characterized by differences in what was considered conventional wisdom by informed lay persons and policy practitioners, differences in institutional frameworks, and differences in the preoccupations of the leading theoreticians. An example of such a change came in the pivotal decade of the 1970s from the Bretton Woods era package of Keynesian demand management, fiscal policy pre- eminence, fixed exchange rates, and New Deal welfare economics to the neoliberal combination of supply-side public policy, monetary policy pre-eminence, floating exchange rates and an emphasis on market disciplines and incentives that has dominated since. This paper argues that a similar confluence of pressures, contradictions and policy impotence that accompanied the paradigm shift of the 1970s is in evidence today and argues for a fundamental re-appraisal of what is presently considered conventional wisdom—i.e., of what we “know” about economics today.

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