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Science and Technology

Introduction to the Neoclassical Perspective

Tác giả: OpenStaxCollege
Impact of the Great Recession
The impact of the Great Recession can be seen in many areas of the economy that impact our daily lives. One of the most visible signs can be seen in the housing market where many homes and other buildings are abandoned, including ones that midway through construction. (Credit: modification of work by A McLin/Flickr Creative Commons)

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 Great Depression of the 1930s or what many have called the Great Recession of 2008–2009. 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 9.6% in 2009. Even as the U.S. unemployment rate rose during recessions and declined during expansions, it kept returning to the general neighborhood of 5.0–5.5%. 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%. 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. This surplus would be eliminated with falling prices, 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 prescribed active fiscal policy to alleviate weak aggregate demand, became the more mainstream perspective.

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