The Policy Implications of the Neoclassical Perspective

To understand the policy recommendations of the neoclassical economists, it helps to start with the Keynesian perspective. Suppose a decrease in aggregate demand causes the economy to go into recession with high unemployment. The Keynesian response would be to use government policy to stimulate aggregate demand and eliminate the recessionary gap. The neoclassical economists believe that the Keynesian response, while perhaps well intentioned, will not have a good outcome for reasons we will discuss shortly. Since the neoclassical economists believe that the economy will correct itself over time, the only advantage of a Keynesian stabilization policy would be to accelerate the process and minimize the time that the unemployed are out of work. Is that the likely outcome?

Keynesian macroeconomic policy requires some optimism about the government's ability to recognize a situation of too little or too much aggregate demand, and to adjust aggregate demand accordingly with the right level of changes in taxes or spending, all enacted in a timely fashion. After all, neoclassical economists argue, it takes government statisticians months to produce even preliminary estimates of GDP so that politicians know whether a recession is occurring—and those preliminary estimates may be revised substantially later. Moreover, there is the question of timely action. The political process can take more months to enact a tax cut or a spending increase. Political or economic considerations may determine the amount of tax or spending changes. Then the economy will take still more months to put into effect changes in aggregate demand through spending and production. When economists and policy makers consider all of these time lags and political realities, active fiscal policy may fail to address the current problem, and could even make the future economy worse. The average U.S. post-World War II recession has lasted only about a year. By the time government policy activates, the recession will likely be over. As a consequence, the only result of government fine-tuning will be to stimulate the economy when it is already recovering (or to contract the economy when it is already falling). In other words, an active macroeconomic policy is likely to exacerbate the cycles rather than dampen them. Some neoclassical economists believe a large part of the business cycles we observe are due to flawed government policy. To learn about this issue further, read the following Clear It Up feature.

Why and how do economists measure inflation expectations?

People take expectations about inflation into consideration every time they make a major purchase, such as a house or a car. As inflation fluctuates, so too does the nominal interest rate on loans to buy these goods. The nominal interest rate is comprised of the real rate, plus an expected inflation factor. Expected inflation also tells economists about how the public views the economy's direction. Suppose the public expects inflation to increase. This could be the result of positive demand shock due to an expanding economy and increasing aggregate demand. It could also be the result of a negative supply shock, perhaps from rising energy prices, and decreasing aggregate supply. In either case, the public may expect the central bank to engage in contractionary monetary policy to reduce inflation, and this policy results in higher interest rates. If, however economists expect inflation to decrease, the public may anticipate a recession. In turn, the public may expect expansionary monetary policy, and lower interest rates, in the short run. By monitoring expected inflation, economists garner information about the effectiveness of macroeconomic policies. Additionally, monitoring expected inflation allows for projecting the direction of real interest rates that isolate for the effect of inflation. This information is necessary for making decisions about financing investments.

Expectations about inflation may seem like a highly theoretical concept, but, in fact the Federal Reserve Bank measures, inflation expectations based upon early research conducted by Joseph Livingston, a financial journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 1946, he started a twice-a-year survey of economists about their expectations of inflation. After Livingston's death in 1969, the Federal Reserve Bank and other economic research agencies such as the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, the American Statistical Association, and the National Bureau of Economic Research continued the survey.

Current Federal Reserve research compares these expectations to actual inflation that has occurred, and the results, so far, are mixed. Economists' forecasts, however, have become notably more accurate in the last few decades. Economists are actively researching how inflation expectations and other economic variables form and change.

Visit this website to read “The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Economic Commentary: A New Approach to Gauging Inflation Expectations” by Joseph G. Haubrich for more information about how economists forecast expected inflation.

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