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On the ubiqitous influence of Keynesian economics

September 24, 2010

In the nineteen-twenties and thirties, economics had been more like history: institutional economics was dominant, and, in opposition to neoclassical economics, emphasized the complicated interactions between political, social, and economic institutions and the complicated motives that drove human economic behavior. Then came the Depression, and the one question that people wanted economists to answer was “What should we do?” “The institutionalists said, ‘Well, it’s very deep, it’s complex, I mean, you just talk about what happened in 1890,’ ” Krugman says. “Keynesian economics, which was coming out of the model-based tradition, even if it was pretty loose-jointed by modern standards, basically said, ‘Push this button.’ ” Push this button—print more money, spend more money—and the button-pushing worked. Push-button economics was not only satisfying to someone of Krugman’s intellectual temperament; it was also, he realized later, politically important. Thinking about economic situations as infinitely complex, with any number of causes going back into the distant past, tended to induce a kind of fatalism: if the origins of a crisis were deeply entangled in a country’s culture, then maybe the crisis was inevitable, perhaps insoluble—even deserved.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/03/01/100301fa_fact_macfarquhar?currentPage=all#ixzz10TgKMi00

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