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8.8 Information, Decisions and Uncertainty

Mainstream perspectives involving uncertainty presume that expectations are

based on either (i) a statistical analysis of past data, with market signals

providing information about immutable objective probabilities, or (ii) a subjective

perception of these probabilities founded on the axioms of expected

utility theory. In the mainstream perspective on uncertainty, probabilistic risk

and uncertainty are synonymous.

Post Keynesians (Davidson, 1978, 1982–3) have developed a different

perspective about uncertainty, where probability distributions are not the

basis for comprehending real-world behaviour under uncertainty. According

to this analysis, there are many important situations where ‘true’ uncertainty

exists regarding future consequences of today’s choices. In these cases of true

uncertainty, today’s decision makers believe that no expenditure of current

resources can provide reliable statistical or intuitive clues regarding future

prospects. In terms of the theory of stochastic processes, such an uncertain

future would be the result of a non-ergodic stochastic system that makes

predicting future outcomes on the basis of past or current probability distributions

obtained from market data unreliable.

Given this Post Keynesian perspective on uncertainty, decision makers

may, in an uncertain environment, either avoid choosing between alternatives

because they ‘haven’t got a clue’ about the future, or follow their ‘animal

spirits’ for positive action in a ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ approach.

This perspective on uncertainty provides a more general theory

explaining long-run decisions regarding liquidity demands and investment

decisions, the existence of long-period underemployment equilibrium, the

long-run non-neutrality of money, and the unique and important role Keynes

assigned to nominal contracts and especially the money-wage contract.