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Banks and Finance in Modern Macroeconomics: A Historical Perspective

Author(s):Ingrao, Bruna
Sardoni, Claudio
Reviewer(s):Rubin, Goulven

Published by EH.Net (June 2020)

Bruna Ingrao and Claudio Sardoni, Banks and Finance in Modern Macroeconomics: A Historical Perspective. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2019. vii + 281 pp. $145 (hardcover), $31 (ebook), ISBN: 978-1-78643-152-3.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Goulven Rubin, Sciences Économiques, Université Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne).

 

Banks and Finance in Modern Macroeconomics by Bruna Ingrao and Claudio Sardoni aims to explain the eviction of banks and finance from the mainstream of macroeconomics before the Great Recession occurred in 2008. The book begins with two chapters on the “giants” of pre-Keynesian revolution macroeconomics. Chapter 2 compares Knut Wicksell and Irving Fisher, two economists who analyzed the role of banks’ supply of credit in order to complete the quantity theory of money. Chapter 3 discusses the contributions of Joseph Schumpeter and Dennis Robertson who both argued that banks’ intervention in the economy is a precondition of innovation and growth. Chapter 4 shows how, in the early 1930s, John Maynard Keynes (1931) and Fisher (1933) analyzed the destabilizing effects of deflation on the financial structure of the economy. Chapter 5 opens the story of how the mainstream excluded banks and finance from its models. It argues that, from 1930 to 1936, Keynes progressively expelled commercial banks from his theoretical apparatus. Chapter 6 and 7 follow the evolution of mainstream Keynesian macroeconomics from 1937 to the 1970s. This mainstream is related first to John Richard Hicks’ “attempt to expound macroeconomic theory in the context of a general equilibrium model” (p. 114) in “Mr Keynes and the Classics” (1937) and in Value and Capital (1939). But the main focus is on the contribution of Don Patinkin and Franco Modigliani. Patinkin erased the financial structure of the economy by assuming away distributive effects and risks of default. A similar simplification of the financial sector is found in Modigliani (1963). In the 1960s, only two lines of research emerged from the wreckage. John Gurley and Edward Shaw (1960) showed the importance of financial intermediaries for the process of growth. James Tobin attempted to incorporate banks and equity markets in the IS-LM framework beginning in the 1960s. Chapter 8 discusses the contribution of Milton Friedman and ends up with the Real Business Cycle literature, which represent the last step in the “disappearance of money.” Chapter 9 surveys the macroeconomic literature spanning the last forty years that considered banks and finance from the perspective of imperfect information. The conclusion of the book explains the authors’ dissatisfaction with the current mainstream. If they credit the post-2008 DSGE literature with a rediscovery of banks and finance, they consider that “the general environment within which the analysis is carried out” (p. 243) remains unfit. The Arrow-Debreu intertemporal general equilibrium model that serves as a benchmark for macroeconomics is not consistent with models incorporating money and imperfections. Ingrao and Sardoni thus end up with a plea for a return to the insights of the giants of the inter-war and to practices less tied to mathematical modelling and more open to the complexities of history, the role of institutions and the reality of behaviors characterized by bounded rationality.

To my knowledge, Ingrao and Sardoni’s book is the first attempt to explore systematically the attention that macroeconomics has paid to banks and finance since its beginnings. It is history of ideas at its best, a practice of history that takes the time to assess the consistency of the theories under scrutiny and to discuss their limits, preparing the reader to “study the present state of economics from the standpoint of past authors” (Kurz, 2006: 468). In this respect it will probably remain a landmark. It provides simultaneously a big picture of the subject and a myriad of subtle case studies to which the above summary cannot do justice. The book is a must-read because of its breadth. But this breadth goes along with a lack of comprehensiveness that blurs the picture and leaves open questions.

Concerning the 1960s and the 1980s, Ingrao and Sardoni’s presentation is too selective. Where they conclude that banks and finance were absent from the mainstream, I would argue that these decades saw a boom of research on the topic. In the 1960s, the book ignores the works of Modigliani and his team to develop the first macroeconometric model at the Federal Reserve Board, the MPS, which featured a detailed finance sector (Acosta and Rubin, 2019). It also ignores the attempts of Karl Brunner and Alan Meltzer to propose an alternative to the IS-LM model with an equity market and financial intermediaries. Concerning the 1980s and 1990s, Ingrao and Sardoni fail to acknowledge the importance and the centrality of the burgeoning literature on credit market imperfections. What we need to explain is why, in spite of the waves of research on banks and finance that marked different periods, those key aspects of the market economy did not become part and parcel of all workhorse models before 2008. Ingrao and Sardoni put all the blame on the Arrow-Debreu model and on the “troubled marriage” of macroeconomics with it. But how exactly did the Walrasian benchmark influence the way banks were defined and modelled or the way they were excluded when it was the case? Was general equilibrium theory really the prime influence here? Matters of tractability or available empirical evidence should also be considered. On this score, I find the discussion too cursory. To take only one example, Ingrao and Sardoni present the version of IS-LM introduced by Hicks (1937) as a Walrasian model. As I have explained elsewhere (Rubin, 2016) following the contributions of Young (1987), Dimand (2007) or Barens (1999), IS-LM originates in the works of Keynes and is not Walrasian. What is lacking is a more careful discussion of the complex interaction between the pure theory of general equilibrium and the impure and simpler macroeconomic models.

References:

Acosta, Juan and Goulven Rubin (2019). “Bank Behavior in Large-scale Macroeconometric Models of the 1960s,” History of Political Economy, 51 (3): 471-491.

Barrens, I. (1999) “From Keynes to Hicks – an Aberration? IS-LM and the Analytical Nucleus of the General Theory,” in P. Howitt et al (editors) Money, Markets and Method: Essays in Honour of Robert W. Clower, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Dimand, Robert (2007) “Keynes, IS-LM, and the Marshallian Tradition,” History of Political Economy, 39 (1): 81-95.

Fisher, Irving (1933). “The Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions,” Econometrica, 1(4): 337-357.

Gurley, John G. and Edward S. Shaw (1960). Money in a Theory of Finance, Washington: Brookings Institution.

Hicks, John R. 1937. “Mr Keynes and the Classics: A Suggested Interpretation,” Econometrica 5: 147-59.

Hicks, John R. [1939] 1946. Value and Capital. An Inquiry into Some Fundamental Principles of Economic Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Keynes, John Maynard (1931[1972]). “The Great Slump of 1930” in Essays in Persuasion, London, Macmillan, vol. 9 of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes.

Keynes, John Maynard (1936). The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, vol. 7 of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes: London: Macmillan.

Kurz, Heinz (2006). “Whither the History of Economic Thought? Going Nowhere Rather Slowly?” European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 13(4): 463-488.

Modigliani, Franco (1963). “The Monetary Mechanism and Its Interaction with Real Phenomena,” Review of Economics and Statistics, 45 (1): 79-107.

Rubin, Goulven (2016) “Oskar Lange and the Walrasian Interpretation of IS-LM,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 38 (3): 285-309.

Young, Warren (1987) Interpreting Mr Keynes: The IS-LM Enigma, Cambridge: Polity Press.

 

Goulven Rubin is Professor at Sorbonne School of Economics, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and Deputy Head of laboratory PHARE. He is a specialist of the history of macroeconomics and the author of articles on Don Patinkin, John Richard Hicks, Oskar Lange, Franco Modigliani and the IS-LM model.

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Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII