ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Strange Defeat

How the New Consensus in Macroeconomics Let Austerity Lose All the Intellectual Battles and Still Win the War

Macroeconomics in the United States today appears to be a site of intense controversy between supporters of more aggressive stimulus measures and supporters of austerity. These policy debates, while important, tend to obscure the strong methodological and theoretical consensus in the economics profession today. All major schools of mainstream macroeconomics are committed to a vision of the economy in which rational agents choose the optimal path over time, and in which any sources of instability are fully offset by a benevolent central bank, at least in normal times. These core intellectual commitments of modern economics have contributed to the weakness of efforts to reduce unemployment in the US and Europe. This paper first describes the intellectual failure of the most prominent arguments for austerity, and then argues that the deeper consensus in macroeconomics has nonetheless made it difficult to make consistent arguments for sustained deficit spending or for making lower unemployment a high priority relative to other macroeconomic goals.

We would like to thank, without implicating, Suresh Naidu, Jim Crotty, Mark Blyth, Peter Spiegler and an anonymous referee for very helpful comments.

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