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6.1: Introduction to the Neoclassical Perspective

  • Page ID
    207780
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    Chapter Objectives

    In this chapter, you will learn about:

    • The Building Blocks of Neoclassical Analysis
    • The Policy Implications of the Neoclassical Perspective 

    In Chicago, Illinois, the highest recorded temperature was 105° in July 1995, while the lowest recorded temperature was 27° below zero in January 1958. Understanding why these extreme weather patterns occurred would be interesting. However, if you wanted to understand the typical weather pattern in Chicago, instead of focusing on one-time extremes, you would need to look at the entire pattern of data over time.

    A similar lesson applies to the study of macroeconomics. It is interesting to study extreme situations, like the 1930s Great Depression, the 2008–2009 Great Recession, or the pandemic-induced recession of 2020. If you want to understand the whole picture, however, you need to look at the long term. Consider the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate has fluctuated from as low as 3.5% in 1969 to as high as 9.7% in 1982 and 8.1% in 2020. Even as the U.S. unemployment rate rose during recessions and declined during expansions, it kept returning to the general neighborhood of 5.0%. When the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office carried out its long-range economic forecasts in 2010, it assumed that from 2015 to 2020, after the recession has passed, the unemployment rate would be 5.0%. In February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate reached a historic low of 3.5% and is back to below 5% as of early 2022. From a long-run perspective, the economy seems to keep adjusting back to this rate of unemployment.

    As the name “neoclassical” implies, this perspective of how the macroeconomy works is a “new” view of the “old” classical model of the economy. The classical view, the predominant economic philosophy until the Great Depression, was that short-term fluctuations in economic activity would rather quickly, with flexible prices, adjust back to full employment. This view of the economy implied a vertical aggregate supply curve at full employment GDP, and prescribed a “hands off” policy approach. For example, if the economy were to slip into recession (a leftward shift of the aggregate demand curve), it would temporarily exhibit a surplus of goods. Falling prices would eliminate this surplus, and the economy would return to full employment level of GDP. No active fiscal or monetary policy was needed. In fact, the classical view was that expansionary fiscal or monetary policy would only cause inflation, rather than increase GDP. The deep and lasting impact of the Great Depression changed this thinking and Keynesian economics (which will be covered in the following chapter), prescribed active fiscal policy to alleviate weak aggregate demand, became the more mainstream perspective.


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