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Economic Growth

In their recent book on economic growth Robert Barro and Xavier Sala-i-

Martin [1995] express the view that ‘economic growth is the part of

macroeconomics that really matters’. In your Yrjo Jahnsson lectures [1987]

you seem to be saying something similar, that macroeconomists have spent

too much time on stabilization and neglected growth, which is a far more

important issue for macroeconomics to look at.

Yes. That is becoming the consensus view. David Romer’s new textbook,

which we use in our first-year graduate macro course at Chicago, begins with

growth. Romer would call himself a new Keynesian and he is perfectly

entitled to call himself that. But his book shows a shift in emphasis towards

long-run growth questions. Quite rightly, I think.

So it’s back to the classics and the grand issues of the long run?

Yes. OK [laughter].

What in your view was the stimulus to the new endogenous growth economics?

Was it the lack of convergence which people were observing empirically

between rich and poor countries, apart from maybe a ‘convergence club’?

No. What is new about the new growth theory is the idea that what we

ought to be trying to do is get a single neoclassical model that can account

for rich and poor countries alike in the same terms. This contrasts with the

view that we had in the 1960s that there was one theory for the advanced

countries and some other model was needed for the Third World. The whole

presumption in the 1960s was that some explicit policy, perhaps based on

the Russian model, was needed to promote development in poor countries.

We didn’t think of economic growth as something that just happened through

market forces.

What do you see as being the important policy implications of the work that

has been done so far on endogenous growth? Some economists have interpreted

the work as suggesting that there is a more positive role for government

than, say, was the case with the Solow model.

Yes. An implication of the Solow model was that the long-term growth rate of

an economy was dictated by technological change and there wasn’t anything

we could do about it. Some of the endogenous growth models have the

property that the long-term growth rate is endogenously determined and that

changes in the tax structure, for example, can influence what that growth rate

is. We can now use these new models to analyse the growth effects of

changes in tax policy. That is something we couldn’t do before. But these

effects I think are pretty small. Even where you have a model where growth

rates can be changed by policy the effects seem to be pretty modest.

What in your view is the reason why the ‘Tiger’ economies of South East Asia

have been so successful? While the Tiger economies have been catching up

with the West with 8 or 9 per cent growth rates, in Africa the 1980s was

almost a completely lost decade as far as economic growth was concerned.

Well, you know Africa has had awful politics.

Do you think African countries generally lack the necessary institutional

framework required for successful development?

No. There has been much too much socialist influence. The common feature

of countries like Taiwan, Korea and Japan is that they have had some kind of

conservative, pro-market, pro-business, economic policies. I mean I wouldn’t

exactly call them free trade because Japan and Korea at least are very mercantilist

in their trade policies, which I don’t approve of. But it is better than

socialism and import substitution by a long, long way.

While they have been outward-looking, some development economists would

argue that within many of the South East Asian Tiger economies there has

been quite a lot of government intervention. As such they see it as being an

example of successful government intervention.

Right. That is how everybody in Japan and Korea sees it [laughter].

You don’t see it that way?

Even Chicago Korean students think that the Korean growth rates have been

engineered by government manipulation. I don’t agree with that view. I don’t

see any evidence for that at all. But it is hard to refute. There is no question

that governments have been extremely active in doing things that they think

promote economic growth.