April 23, 2016

The problem with macroeconomics in two words

Comment on Angus on ‘The Problem with Macro in one blogpost’

Blog-Reference and Blog-Reference and Blog-Reference on Apr 24 adapted to context

The two words are scientific incompetence. Yet, to explain how economics became one of the most embarrassing failures in the history of scientific thought requires some more words.

Standard economics is built upon this set of foundational propositions, a.k.a. axioms: “HC1 economic agents have preferences over outcomes; HC2 agents individually optimize subject to constraints; HC3 agent choice is manifest in interrelated markets; HC4 agents have full relevant knowledge; HC5 observable outcomes are coordinated, and must be discussed with reference to  equilibrium states.” (Weintraub, 1985)

Methodologically, these premises are forever unacceptable but economists swallowed them hook, line and sinker from Jevons/Walras/Menger onward to DSGE. The failure of methodological individualism is indisputable. The ultimate reason can be stated as an impossibility theorem: NO way leads from the explanation of individual behavior to the explanation of how the economic system works.

Because of this, the microfoundations approach has already been dead in the cradle. This leaves only one option. As Joan Robinson put it: "Scrap the lot and start again."

Keynes started the macrofoundations research program in the General Theory formally as follows: “Income = value of output = consumption + investment. Saving = income − consumption. Therefore saving = investment.” (1973, p. 63)

These formal foundations are conceptually and logically defective because Keynes never came to grips with profit and therefore “discarded the draft chapter dealing with it.” (Tómasson et al., 2010, p. 12).

Keynes’ original blunder kicked off a chain reaction of errors/mistakes:
• All I=S/IS-LM models are false since Keynes and Hicks (2011).
• Keynes’ profit conundrum has not been solved by After-Keynesians.
• Keynes got the Employment Law/Phillips curve wrong (2012).

So, for Keynesianism holds also: "Scrap the lot and start again."

What has to be done is to fully replace the Walrasian and Keynesian axioms with methodologically correct macrofoundations. The paradigm shift is achieved as follows.
A0. The objectively given and most elementary configuration of the (world-) economy consists of the household and the business sector which in turn consists initially of one giant fully integrated firm.
(A1) Yw=WL wage income Yw is equal to wage rate W times working hours. L,
(A2) O=RL output O is equal to productivity R times working hours L,
(A3) C=PX consumption expenditure C is equal to price P times quantity bought/sold X.

For the graphical representation of the ABSOLUTE formal minimum see link #1. (A1) to (A3) asserts: At any given level of employment L, the wage income Yw that is generated in the consolidated business sector follows by multiplication with the wage rate W. On the real side, output O follows by multiplication with the productivity R. Finally, the price P follows as the dependent variable under the conditions of (i) budget balancing, i.e. C=Yw, and (ii) market-clearing, i.e. X=O.

Under the conditions (i)/(ii) the price is derived in each period as P=W/R (1), i.e. the market-clearing price is in the most elementary case equal to unit wage costs. This is the elementary form of the macroeconomic Law of Supply and Demand (#2).

The first thing to notice is that the real wage W/P is invariably equal to the productivity R according to (1). So, for the economy as a WHOLE, the marginal principle does NOT hold. This explodes the welfare theorems. The second point to notice is that from (A1)-(A3) follows the correct macroeconomic Profit Law for the production-consumption economy as Qm≡−Sm and the investment economy as Qm≡Yd+I−Sm.

To this day, neither Walrasians, nor Keynesians, nor Marxians, nor Austrians got profit right. No more proof of scientific incompetence is needed. Remains only one question: how do we get rid of these folks?

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2011). Why Post Keynesianism is Not Yet a Science. SSRN Working Paper Series, 1966438: 1–20. URL
Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2012). Keynes’ Employment Function and the Gratuitous Phillips Curve Disaster. SSRN Working Paper Series, 2130421: 1–19. URL
Keynes, J. M. (1973). The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money. London, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Tómasson, G., and Bezemer, D. J. (2010). What is the Source of Profit and Interest? A Classical Conundrum Reconsidered. MPRA Paper, 20557: 1–34. URL

#1 Wikimedia
#2 For more details see the working papers at SSRN

REPLY to Gene Callahan on Apr 25

“What we must avoid ... is the bad taste of a finicky scholasticism — getting tied up in little assertions or minor criticism for the sake of criticism.” (Popper, quoted in Redman, 1993, p. 64)

There is a longer version of Weintraub’s set of axioms: “The [neo-Walrasian] program is organized around the following hardcore propositions:
HC1 There exist economic agents.
HC2 Agents have preferences over outcomes.
HC3 Agents independently optimize subject to constraints.
HC4 Choices are made in interrelated markets.
HC5 Agents have full relevant knowledge.
HC6 Observable economic outcomes are coordinated, so they must be discussed with reference to equilibrium states.” (Weintraub, 1985, p. 109)

HC1 contains the explicit commitment to methodological individualism. THIS commitment is shared by the Austrian school in general and Menger in particular: “The Austrian School is a school of economic thought that is based on the concept of methodological individualism – that social phenomena result from the motivations and actions of individuals. It originated in the late-19th and early-20th century Vienna with the work of Carl Menger ... and others.” (Wikipedia)

For ALL variants of methodological individualism holds: NO way leads from the explanation of individual behavior/action to the explanation of how the economic system works. Because of this, methodological individualism (a.k.a. microfoundations) and Austrianism with it and Menger with it have been dead in the cradle in the late-19th century (2013; 2014). Austrians have not realized this to this day.

It is a matter of indifference whether Menger subscribed explicitly to HC2/HC5. It suffices to subscribe to HC1 for vanishing forever in the proto-scientific woods.

REPLY to geoih on Apr 26

The Iron Methodological Rule states ‘garbage in, garbage out’. And this fully explains the failure of economics.

Euclid’s axioms of geometry had REAL content. “In Einstein's words, geometry constituted one of the oldest physical theories. In the preface to his Principia Newton treats geometry as a branch of mechanics, i.e. as a branch of physics: Therefore geometry is founded in mechanical practice and is nothing but that part of universal mechanics which accurately proposes and demonstrates the art of measuring.” (Zahar, 1980, p. 3)

The neo-Walrasian axiom set has NO real content but consists of NONENTITIES. Utility, constrained maximization, equilibrium, angels, and the Easter Bunny are nonentities, in other words, the axiom set HC1-HC6 is vacuous (2014). By consequence, the WHOLE theoretical superstructure (General Equilibrium Theory, DSGE, etc.), too, has no real content.

Economists accepted provable false green cheese behavioral assumptions as axioms. The failure of the microfoundations-of-macro project is just another proof of the Iron Rule ‘garbage in, garbage out’.

Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2014). Objective Principles of Economics. SSRN Working Paper Series, 2418851: 1–19. URL
Zahar, E. (1980). Einstein, Meyerson and the Role of Mathematics in Physical Discovery. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 31(1): 1–43. URL