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Postwar Macroeconomics: The Evolution of Events and Ideas

In: The American Economy in Transition

Author

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  • Robert J. Gordon
  • Arthur M. Okun
  • Herbert Stein

Abstract

This paper traces the evolution of macroeconomic events and ideas from the late 1940s to the present day. After a brief introduction that highlights the unique features of the main macroeconomic variables as compared to their behavior before 1947, the paper turns to an analysis of four main postwar sub-periods. The analysis of each sub-period begins with a summary of the dominant conceptual framework popular at the time, reviews the most surprising features of both demand fluctuations and supply phenomena, and concludes with a retrospective evaluation of policy. Many shifts in macroeconomic thinking can be traced to the influence of particular events. The small role that monetary changes played in explaining demand fluctuations in the first postwar decade helped maintain intact the Keynesian multiplier framework, but the increasing importance of autonomous monetary movements in the second decade laid the groundwork for a greater emphasis on the potency of monetary policy in the late 1960s. The widespread acceptance of monetarism owes much to the coincidence in 1968 of an unexpected acceleration in inflation together with the failure of the tax surcharge enacted in that year. Similarly, the increased degree of inertia evident in the behavior of inflation from 1954 on helped win ready acceptance for the idea of a stable Phillips-curve tradeoff, while the refusal of inflation to abate in 1970 helped solidify the victory of the natural hypothesis. A major theme of the paper is the gradual but profound shift in macroeconomics from the dominance of demand issues to a new emphasis on supply topics. Price controls, crop failures, and OPEC actions in the l970s have brought supply shocks to the forefront of policy discussions, revived fiscal policy asa means of countering supply shocks, and lessened support for a monetarist reliance on simple policy rules.
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Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. Gordon & Arthur M. Okun & Herbert Stein, 1980. "Postwar Macroeconomics: The Evolution of Events and Ideas," NBER Chapters,in: The American Economy in Transition, pages 101-182 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:11296
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    Cited by:

    1. Kala Krishna & Cemile Yavas, 2004. "Lumpy consumer durables, market power, and endogenous business cycles," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 37(2), pages 375-391, May.
    2. J. Bradford De Long, "undated". "America's Peacetime Inflation: The 1970s," J. Bradford De Long's Working Papers _104, University of California at Berkeley, Economics Department.
    3. Peter Temin, 1998. "Causes of American business cycles: an essay in economic historiography," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 42(Jun), pages 37-64.
    4. John V. Duca, 1995. "Regulatory changes and housing coefficients," Working Papers 9512, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
    5. Hume, Michael & Sentance, Andrew, 2009. "The global credit boom: Challenges for macroeconomics and policy," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 28(8), pages 1426-1461, December.
    6. Diebold, Francis X & Rudebusch, Glenn D, 1992. "Have Postwar Economic Fluctuations Been Stabilized?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(4), pages 993-1005, September.
    7. Xavier Gabaix, 2011. "The Granular Origins of Aggregate Fluctuations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(3), pages 733-772, May.
    8. Alexandre Flávio Silva Andrada, 2014. "Um Estudo Do Discurso Doutrinário De Robert E. Lucas Jr. Método E História Das Ideias Acerca Das Análises De Ciclos Econômicos," Anais do XLI Encontro Nacional de Economia [Proceedings of the 41st Brazilian Economics Meeting] 005, ANPEC - Associação Nacional dos Centros de Pós-Graduação em Economia [Brazilian Association of Graduate Programs in Economics].
    9. Stock, James H. & Watson, Mark W., 1999. "Business cycle fluctuations in us macroeconomic time series," Handbook of Macroeconomics,in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 1, pages 3-64 Elsevier.
    10. J. Bradford De Long, "undated". "Keynesianism, Pennsylvania-Avenue Style: Some Economic Consequences of the 1946 Employment Act," J. Bradford De Long's Working Papers _105, University of California at Berkeley, Economics Department.
    11. J. Bradford De Long, 1996. "America's Only Peacetime Inflation: The 1970s," NBER Historical Working Papers 0084, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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