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Robert J. Gordon: Is Modern Macro or 1978‐era Macro More Relevant to the Understanding of the Current Economic Crisis?

Robert J. Gordon: Is Modern Macro or 1978‐era Macro More Relevant to the Understanding of the Current Economic Crisis?:

This paper differs from other recent critiques of “modern macro” based on DSGE models. It goes beyond criticizing these models for their assumptions of complete and efficient markets by proposing an alternative macroeconomic paradigm that is more suitable for tracing the links between financial bubbles and the commodity and labor markets of the real economy.

The paper provides a fundamental critique of DSGE and the related core assumptions of modern business cycle macroeconomics. By attempting to combine sticky Calvo‐like prices in a theoretical setting that otherwise assumes that markets clear, DSGE macro becomes tangled in a web of contradictions. Once prices are sticky, markets fail to clear. Once markets fail to clear, workers are not moving back and forth on their voluntary labor supply curves, so the elasticity of such curves is irrelevant. Once markets fail to clear, firms are not sliding back and forth on their labor demand curves, and so it is irrelevant whether the price‐cost markup (i.e., slope of the labor demand curve) is negative or positive.

The paper resurrects “1978‐era” macroeconomics that combines non‐market‐clearing aggregate demand based on incomplete price adjustment, together with a supply‐side invented in the mid‐1970s that recognizes the co‐existence of flexible auction‐market prices for commodities like oil and sticky prices for the remaining non‐oil economy. As combined in 1978‐era theories, empirical work, and pioneering intermediate macro textbooks, this merger of demand and supply resulted in a well‐articulated dynamic aggregate demand‐supply model that has stood the test of time in explaining both the multiplicity of links between the financial and real economies, as well as why inflation and unemployment can be both negatively and positively correlated.

Along the way, the paper goes beyond most recent accounts of the worldwide economic crisis by pointing out numerous similarities between the leverage cycles of 1927‐29 and 2003‐06, particularly parallel regulatory failings in both episodes, and it links tightly the empirical lack of realism in the demand and supply sides of modern DSGE models with the empirical reality that has long been built into the 1978‐era paradigm resurrected here.