This article proposes a history of the evolution of macroeconomists’ explanations of the 1970s US stagflation, from 1975 to 2013. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, 1) I observe the different types of explanations coexisting at different periods ; 2) I assess which was the dominant type of explanations for each period ; and 3) I identify the main sources of influence for the different types of explanation. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, supply-shocks and inflation inertia were fundamental concepts to explain stagflation. The interest on this topic progressively vanished after 1985. In the 1990s, it was a totally new literature which emerged almost without any reference to past explanations. This literature focused on the role played by monetary policy in the late 1960s and the 1970s to account for the rise of inflation. New Classical economists’ contributions, like Lucas (1976), Kydland and Prescott (1977) or Barro and Gordon (1983a), which were ignored by stagflation explanations in the 1970s/1980s, became major references to account for the 1970s stagflation in the 1990s.
The International Seminar on Macroeconomics (ISoM) is an annual conference, which was co-sponsored during 15 years (1978-1993) by the French EHESS and the NBER. This article uncovers the scientific and institutional dynamics unrolling from this cooperation. We argue that macroeconomists gathered by the ISoM contributed greatly to the making of a European network of economists sharing similar professional and intellectual standards. We illustrate how the ISoM stood at the crossroad of two types of ‘internationalisation’ of economics: the integration of European national communitiesand the process of ‘Americanisation’ of economics. While existing literature on ‘internationalisation’ focuses on the national level, our contribution investigates the European level. Moreover, we unveil how two research programmes in macroeconomics (namely the disequilibrium theory and large-scale macroeconometric modelling) played a significant role in this process.
This article explores Robert E. Lucas’s policy agenda and his engagement with the public debate between the 1970s and early 1980s. It investigates how he interacted with the public debate by envisioning key principles of his macroeconomic theory and methodology, and how he promoted his policy agenda. An exploration of Lucas’s personal and professional archives sheds light on his participation in policy debates after the publication of his works, illustrating how Lucas built a discreet and cautious way of engaging with the public. Lucas did not propose a detailed program to implement his policy agenda, nor was he actively promoting his policy agenda. The article suggests that Lucas’s originality compared to his contemporaries was his belief on the ability of macroeconomics to scientifically devise binding policy rules that could be integrated in an economic constitution.
In 1976, Robert Lucas explicitly criticized Keynesian macroeconometric models for their inability to correctly predict the effects of alternative economic policies. Today, most contemporary macroeconomists and some historians of economics consider that Lucas’s critique led forcefully to an immediate disqualification of the Keynesian macroeconometric approach. This narrative is based on the interpretation of the Lucas critique as a fundamental principle for economic reasoning that was (and still is) logically unquestionable. We consider that this narrative is problematic both in terms of historiography and the effects that it can have in the field as a way of assigning importance and credit to particular macroeconomists. Indeed, the point of view of the Keynesian economists is missing despite the fact that they were the target of Lucas’s paper and that throughout the 1970s and 1980s they produced a fierce reaction against it. In this article we analyze the reactions by a broad set of authors (which we label “Keynesians”) that disputed the relevance of the critique. In spite of their diversity in methodological, theoretical, and policy issues, these reactions were characterized by their common questioning of the empirical and practical relevance of the Lucas critique.
This article studies the dissemination of the Natural Rate of Unemployment Hypothesis (NRH) in macroeconomics during the 1970s, by studying the reaction of Robert J. Gordon to the argument of Friedman (1968). In the early 1970s, Gordon opposed the NRH, arguing that the estimated parameter on expected inflation was below one. Confronting to new data and to rising inflation, Gordon adopted the NRH after 1973. Nevertheless, the adoption anticipated any clear empirical proof. We explain that this conversion was due to Friedman’s influence on Gordon, but also to the fact it did not prevent Gordon to support active stabilization policies.
The article shows that Sargent’s macroeconomic vision differs from Lucas' one. For the latter, the assumptions of a model are “un-realistic”, i.e., the model does not aim to represent reality. It is a simulation tool that allows the assessment of different economic policies. The “Lucasian” ideal is a macroeconomist, who is therefore destined to become an engineer in charge of providing public authorities with an “economic policy software”. The engineer uses this software to guide policymakers on a scientific basis. For its part, Sargent considers that in order to substitute the Keynesian paradigm, the new classical economics must be able to fulfill the same tasks. And one of these tasks is to advise public authorities by providing them with an interpretative framework for the economic and social phenomena and with intuitive tools to discuss the economic policies that will be set up. Sargent wants to apply what he calls the Rational Expectations Theory to a set of concrete events (Poincaré stabilization, German hyperinflation, Thatcher and Reagan policies) in order to demonstrate the relevance of this interpretative framework used to think about contemporary economic problems.