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8.11 Conclusions

The fundamental building blocks of Post Keynesian theory are: (i) the nonneutrality

of money; (ii) the existence of non-ergodic uncertainty in some

important decision-making aspects of economic life; and (iii) the denial of

the ubiquitousness of the gross substitution axiom. One way that humans

have coped with having to make decisions where pay-offs will occur in the

unforeseen and possibly unforeseeable future is via the development of the

law of contracts by civilized societies, and the use of money as a chartalist

means of discharging contracts. The abolition of slavery makes the enforcement

of real contracts for human labour illegal. Accordingly, civilized society

has decided not to permit ‘real contracting’ no matter how efficient it can be

proved to be in neoclassical economics.

Keynes’s revolutionary analysis, where money is never neutral and liquidity

matters, is a general theory of an economy where the complete unpredictability

of the future may have important economic consequences. By contrast, neoclassical

optimization requires restrictive fundamental postulates regarding

uncertainty and hence expectations regarding future consequences that Keynes’s

analysis does not. The analyst must therefore choose which system is more

relevant for analysing the economic problem under study.

For many routine decisions, assuming the uniformity and consistency of

nature over time (that is, assuming ergodicity) may be, by the definition of

routine, a useful simplification for handling the problem at hand. For problems

involving investment and liquidity decisions where large unforeseeable

changes over long periods of calendar time cannot be ruled out, the Keynesian

uncertainty model is more applicable. To presume a universe of discoverable

regularities which can be expected to continue into the future and where the

neutrality of money is therefore central (Lucas, 1981b, p. 561) will provide a

misleading analogy for developing macro policies for monetary, production

economies whenever money really matters and affects production decisions

in the real economy.

Economists should be careful not to claim more for their discipline than

they can deliver. The belief that in ‘some circumstances’ the world is

probabilistic (Lucas and Sargent, 1981, pp. xi–xii), or that future prospects

can be completely ordered, will tend to lead to the argument that individuals

in free markets will not make persistent errors and will tend to know better

than the government how to judge the future. Basing general rules on these

particular assumptions can result in disastrous policy advice for governmental

officials facing situations where many economic decision makers feel

unable to draw conclusions about the future from the past.

However, if economists can recognize and identify when these (non-ergodic)

economic conditions of true uncertainty are likely to be prevalent, government

can play a role in improving the economic performance of markets.

Economists should strive to design institutional devices which can produce

legal constraints on the infinite universe of events which could otherwise

occur as the economic process moves through historical time. For example,

governments can set up financial safety nets to prevent, or at least offset,

disastrous consequences that might occur, and also provide monetary incentives

to encourage individuals to take civilized actions which are determined

by democratic processes to be in the social interest (Davidson and Davidson,

1988). Where private institutions do not exist, or need buttressing against

winds of true uncertainty, government should develop economic institutions

which attempt to reduce uncertainties by limiting the possible consequences

of private actions to those that are compatible with full employment and

reasonable price stability.