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7.14 An Assessment of New Keynesian Economics

How successful have new Keynesian economists been in their quest to develop

coherent microfoundations for sticky price models? Barro’s (1989a)

main conclusion regarding new Keynesian economics (for which he uses the

acronym NUKE) was that, although some of these ideas may prove to be

useful as elements in real business cycle models, NUKE models have ‘not

been successful in rehabilitating the Keynesian approach’. In sharp contrast,

Mankiw and Romer (1991, p. 15) concluded that ‘The new classical argument

that the Keynesian assumption of nominal rigidities was incapable of

being given theoretical foundations has been refuted.’

Keynesian economics has displayed a remarkable resilience during the

past 30 years, given the strength of the theoretical counter-revolutions launched

against its essential doctrines, particularly during the period 1968–82. This

resilience can be attributed to the capacity of Keynesian analysis to adapt to

both theoretical innovations and new empirical findings (see Shaw, 1988;

Lindbeck, 1998; Gali, 2002). Not only has Keynesian economics proved

capable of absorbing the natural rate hypothesis and expectations-augmented

Phillips curve; it has also managed to accommodate the rational expectations

hypothesis and build on the insights and methodology of the real business

cycle school (Ireland, 2004). This fundamental metamorphosis continues,

with new Keynesian theorists rebuilding and refining the foundations of

Keynesian economics in line with modern developments in microeconomic

and macroeconomic theory. By emphasizing a variety of imperfections in the

labour, product and capital markets, new Keynesian economics is viewed by

its advocates as an ‘exciting’ and ‘dynamic research programme’ (Stiglitz,

1992). To the critics, new Keynesians have achieved little more than reintroduce

‘old wine in new bottles’.

In his assessment of new Keynesian economics, Lindbeck (1998) argues

that the current ‘sophisticated structure of macroeconomic theory’ has arisen

through numerous contributions from many different strands of economic

analysis. As this process continues and involves the closer integration of real

business cycle analysis with new Keynesian frictions, ‘traditional labels’ on

macroeconomic theories, such as new Keynesian, new classical and real

business cycle, will ‘probably become increasingly irrelevant’.

In his Nobel Memorial Lecture, ‘Behavioural Macroeconomics and Macroeconomic

Behaviour’, Akerlof (2002) provides a significant critique of new

classical models and a spirited defence of Keynesian economics broadly

defined. Akerlof argues that the behavioural assumptions of the new classical

models are so ‘primitive’ that they lead to an outright denial of several

important macroeconomic phenomena. These include denying ‘the existence

of involuntary unemployment’, denying that monetary policy, even if anticipated,

does impact on real variables such as output and employment, and

ignoring the fact that deflation fails to accelerate when unemployment and

output are above their natural rates, as predicted by new classical models.

Akerlof agrees with Lucas that the orthodox Keynesian models of the neoclassical

synthesis era were in need of coherent microfoundations. However,

the orthodox neoclassical microfoundations adopted by the new classical

school ignored, and continue largely to ignore, the tremendous progress that

has been made by economists in modelling the impact of asymmetric information,

imperfect competition and adopting assumptions ‘grounded in

psychological and sociological observation’. Akerlof believes that future

progress in macroeconomics depends on building a ‘behavioural macroeconomics’

in the spirit of Keynes (see also Stiglitz, 2000, 2002). It remains to

be seen if a ‘Keynesian economics’ will proceed in the direction recommended

by Akerlof.

Gregory Mankiw was born in 1958 in Trenton, New Jersey and graduated

from Princeton University in 1980 before obtaining his PhD in economics

from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984. Since 1985 he has

been teaching at Harvard University, where he is Professor of Economics.

Gregory Mankiw is best known for his work on price adjustment, the

determinants of consumer spending and the theory and empirics of economic

growth. He is widely recognized as a leading exponent of the new Keynesian

school of macroeconomics. His best-known books include: New Keynesian

Economics. Vol. 1, Imperfect Competition and Sticky Prices (MIT Press,

1991), co-edited with David Romer; New Keynesian Economics, Vol. 2, Coordination

Failures and Real Rigidities (MIT Press, 1991), co-edited with

David Romer; Monetary Policy (University of Chicago Press, 1994); and

Macroeconomics, 5th edn (Worth Publishers, 2003).

Professor Mankiw’s best-known articles include: ‘Intertemporal Substitution

in Macroeconomics’, Quarterly Journal of Economics (1985), co-authored

with Julio Rotemberg and Laurence Summers; ‘Small Menu Costs and Large

Business Cycles: A Macroeconomic Model of Monopoly’, Quarterly Journal

of Economics (1985); ‘The New Keynesian Economics and the Output–Inflation

Trade-off’, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (1988), co-authored with

Lawrence Ball and David Romer; ‘Real Business Cycles: A New Keynesian

Perspective’, Journal of Economic Perspectives (1989); ‘A Contribution to the