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Mainstream economics is the body of knowledge, theories, and models of economics, as taught by universities worldwide, that are generally accepted by economists as a basis for discussion. Also known as orthodox economics, it can be contrasted to heterodox economics, which encompasses various schools or approaches that are only accepted by a minority of economists.
The economics profession has traditionally been associated with neoclassical economicsand with the neoclassical synthesis, and since the mid-20th century, has included the Keynesian approach to macroeconomics. This claim has however been challenged by prominent historians of economic thought like David Collander. They argue the current economic mainstream theories (game theory, behavioral economics, industrial organization, information economics ...) share very little common ground with the initial axioms of neoclassical economics.
In the United States, economists are not generally separated into schools, but two major contemporary economic schools of thought have been the "saltwater and freshwater schools". In the early 1970s, so-called "fresh-water economists" challenged the prevailing consensus in macroeconomics research. Key elements of their approach were that macroeconomics had to be dynamic, quantitative, and based on how individuals and institutions make decisions under uncertainty.
Many of the proponents of this radically new approach to macroeconomics were associated with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Chicago, the University of Rochester and the University of Minnesota. They were referred to as the "freshwater school" since Pittsburgh, Chicago, Rochester, and Minneapolis are located nearer to the Great Lakes. The established consensus was primarily defended by economists at the universities and other institutions located near the east and west coast of the United States, such as Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, and Yale. They were therefore often referred to as "the saltwater schools". Economists generally tend not to identify themselves as members of a particular school, though in the political arena they are sometimes categorized.
Economics has always featured multiple schools of economic thought, with different schools having different prominence across countries and over time. The current use of the term "mainstream economics" is specific to the post–World War II era, particularly in the English-speaking world, and to a lesser extent globally.
Prior to the development and prevalence of classical economics, the dominant school in Europe was mercantilism, which was rather a loose set of related ideas than an institutionalized school. With the development of modern economics, conventionally given as the late 18th-century The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, British economics developed and became dominated by what is now called the classical school. From The Wealth of Nations until the Great Depression, the dominant school within the English-speaking world was classical economics, and its successor, neoclassical economics.In continental Europe, the earlier work of the physiocrats in France formed a distinct tradition, as did the later work of the historical school of economics in Germany, and throughout the 19th century there were debates in British economics, notably the opposition underconsumptionist school.
During the Great Depression and the following Second World War, the school of Keynesian economics gained attention, which built on the work of the underconsumptionist school, and present-day mainstream economics stems from the neoclassical synthesis, which was the post–World War II merger of Keynesian macroeconomics and neoclassical microeconomics.
In continental Europe, by contrast, Keynesian economics was rejected, with German thought dominated by the Freiburg school, whose political philosophy of ordoliberalism formed the intellectual basis of Germany's post-war social market economy. Within developing economies, which formed the majority of the world's population, various schools of development economics have been influential.
Since 2007, the financial crisis of 2007–2010 and the ensuing global economic crisis has publicly exposed divisions within economics and spurred discussion.
The term "mainstream economics" came into use in the late 20th century. It appeared in 2001 edition of the seminal textbook Economics by Samuelson and Nordhauson the inside back cover in the "Family Tree of Economics," which depicts arrows into "Modern Mainstream Economics" from J.M. Keynes (1936) and neoclassical economics (1860–1910). The term "neoclassical synthesis" itself also first appears in the 1955 edition of Samuelson's textbook. It is up to debate whether the two concepts of neo-classical synthesis and orthodox economics coincide today.
Mainstream economics can be defined, as distinct from other schools of economics, by various criteria, notably by its assumptions, its methods, and its topics. It is however also useful to challenge this distinction in light of the mutation of mainstream economics.
While being long rejected by many heterodox schools, several assumptions used to underpin many mainstream economic models. These include the neoclassical assumptions of rational choice theory, a representative agent, and, often, rational expectations. However, much of modern economic mainstream modeling consists of exploring the effects that complicating factors have on models, such as imperfect and asymmetric informatio n, bounded rationality incomplete markets, imperfect competition and transaction costs.
Originally, the starting point of orthodox economic analysis was the individual. Individuals and firms were generally defined as units with a common goal: maximisation through rational behaviour. The only differences consisted of:
From this (descriptive) theoretical framework, neoclassical economists like Alfred Marshall often derived -although not systematically - the political prescription that political action should not be used to solve the problems of the economic system. Instead, the solution ought to derive from an intervention on the above-mentioned maximisation objectives and constraints. It is in this context that economic capitalism finds its justification .Yet, mainstream economics now includes descriptive theories of market and government failure and private and public goods.These developments suggest a range of views on the desirability or otherwise of government intervention, from a more normative perspective.
Mainstream economics has also been defined methodologically as work which mainstream economists are willing to engage, which requires conforming to the mainstream language of mathematical models,featuring calculus, optimization, and comparative statics. Under this definition, areas of thought which are typically thought of as heterodox because they do not work under the typical neoclassical assumptions, such as econophysics, behavioral economics, and evolutionary economics, can be considered mainstream when they are engaged in the mainstream, using mainstream methods. Geoffrey Hodgson has considered the possibility that evolutionary economics and institutional economics may eventually become a new mainstream.
Additionally, some economic fields include elements of both mainstream economics and heterodox economics: for example, the Austrian economics [ how? ], institutional economics, neuroeconomics and non-linear complexity theory. They may use neoclassical economics as a point of departure. At least one institutionalist has argued that "neoclassical economics no longer dominates a mainstream economics."
Economics has been initially shaped as a discipline concerned with a range of issues revolving around money and wealth. However, in the 1930s, mainstream economics began to mutate into a science of human decision. In 1931, Lionel Robbins famously wrote "Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.". This drew a line of demarcation between mainstream economics and other disciplines and schools studying the economy.
The mainstream approach of economics as a science of decision-making contributed to enlarge the scope of the discipline. Economists like Gary Becke r began to study seemingly distant fields as crime, the family, law, politics, and religion. This expansion is sometimes referred to as economic imperialism.
Since the financial crisis of 2007–2010, considerable conflict has arisen, among both economic theorists and a wider cross-section of the public, regarding the status and future of short-term macroeconomics which was confused with the entire mainstream economics.Some critics have argued that potentially promising approaches have been excluded in major mainstream publications by a focus on problems amenable to formal modeling.
Chartalists, who are generally considered part of the Post-Keynesian school of thought, criticise mainstream theory as failing to describe the actual mechanics of modern fiat monetary economies. Chartalism focuses on an alternative model of the way money flows through the different sectors of an economy. Chartalists reject mainstream theories such as the loanable funds market, the money multiplier, and the utility of fiscal austerity.
Some economists, in the vein of ecological economics, believe that the neoclassical "holy trinity" of rationality, greed, and equilibrium, is being replaced by the holy trinity of purposeful behavior, enlightened self-interest, and sustainability, considerably broadening the scope of what is mainstream.Ecological economics addresses sustainability issues, such as public goods, natural capital and negative externalities (such as pollution).
Energy related theories of economic concepts also exist within energy economics relating to thermodynamic concepts of economic thinking, such as energy accounting.Biophysical economics relates to this area.
Keynesian economics are various macroeconomic theories about how in the short run – and especially during recessions – economic output is strongly influenced by aggregate demand. In the Keynesian view, aggregate demand does not necessarily equal the productive capacity of the economy; instead, it is influenced by a host of factors and sometimes behaves erratically, affecting production, employment, and inflation.
Macroeconomics is a branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of an economy as a whole. This includes regional, national, and global economies.
Neoclassical economics is an approach to economics focusing on the determination of goods, outputs, and income distributions in markets through supply and demand. This determination is often mediated through a hypothesized maximization of utility by income-constrained individuals and of profits by firms facing production costs and employing available information and factors of production, in accordance with rational choice theory, a theory that has come under considerable question in recent years.
Post-Keynesian economics is a school of economic thought with its origins in The General Theory of John Maynard Keynes, with subsequent development influenced to a large degree by Michał Kalecki, Joan Robinson, Nicholas Kaldor, Sidney Weintraub, Paul Davidson, Piero Sraffa and Jan Kregel. Historian Robert Skidelsky argues that the post-Keynesian school has remained closest to the spirit of Keynes' original work. It is a heterodox approach to economics.
New Keynesian economics is a school of contemporary macroeconomics that strives to provide microeconomic foundations for Keynesian economics. It developed partly as a response to criticisms of Keynesian macroeconomics by adherents of new classical macroeconomics.
Classical economics or classical political economy is a school of thought in economics that flourished, primarily in Britain, in the late 18th and early-to-mid 19th century. Its main thinkers are held to be Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo, Thomas Robert Malthus, and John Stuart Mill. These economists produced a theory of market economies as largely self-regulating systems, governed by natural laws of production and exchange.
Neo-Keynesian economics is a school of macroeconomic thought that was developed in the post-war period from the writings of John Maynard Keynes. A group of economists, attempted to interpret and formalize Keynes' writings and to synthesize it with the neoclassical models of economics. Their work has become known as the neoclassical synthesis and created the models that formed the core ideas of neo-Keynesian economics. These ideas dominated mainstream economics in the post-war period and formed the mainstream of macroeconomic thought in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Heterodox economics is any economic thought or theory that contrasts with orthodox schools of economic thought, or that may be beyond neoclassical economics. These include institutional, evolutionary, feminist, social, post-Keynesian, ecological, Georgist, Austrian, Marxian, socialist and anarchist economics, among others.
Economics is an introductory textbook by American economists Paul Samuelson and William Nordhaus. It was first published in 1948, and has appeared in nineteen different editions, the most recent in 2009. It was the best selling economics textbook for many decades and still remains popular, selling over 300,000 copies of each edition from 1961 through 1976. The book has been translated into forty-one languages and in total has sold over four million copies.
Complexity economics is the application of complexity science to the problems of economics. It sees the economy not as a system in equilibrium, but as one in motion, perpetually constructing itself anew. It uses computational and mathematical analysis to explore how economic structure is formed and reformed, in continuous interaction with the adaptive behavior of the 'agents' in the economy
In the history of economic thought, a school of economic thought is a group of economic thinkers who share or shared a common perspective on the way economies work. While economists do not always fit into particular schools, particularly in modern times, classifying economists into schools of thought is common. Economic thought may be roughly divided into three phases: premodern, early modern and modern. Systematic economic theory has been developed mainly since the beginning of what is termed the modern era.
The neoclassical synthesis, or the neoclassical–Keynesian synthesis, was a post-World War II academic movement in economics that worked towards absorbing the macroeconomic thought of John Maynard Keynes into neoclassical economics. The resultant macroeconomic theories and models are termed neo-Keynesian economics. Mainstream economics is largely dominated by the synthesis, being largely Keynesian in macroeconomics and neoclassical in microeconomics.
New classical macroeconomics, sometimes simply called new classical economics, is a school of thought in macroeconomics that builds its analysis entirely on a neoclassical framework. Specifically, it emphasizes the importance of rigorous foundations based on microeconomics, especially rational expectations.
In economics, the freshwater school comprises US-based macroeconomists who, in the early 1970s, challenged the prevailing consensus in macroeconomics research. A key element of their approach was the argument that macroeconomics had to be dynamic and based on how individuals and institutions interact in markets and on how they make decisions under uncertainty.
Neo-classical economics has come under critique on the basis of its core ideologies, assumptions, and other matters.
The Keynesian Revolution was a fundamental reworking of economic theory concerning the factors determining employment levels in the overall economy. The revolution was set against the then orthodox economic framework, namely neoclassical economics.
Macroeconomic theory has its origins in the study of business cycles and monetary theory. In general, early theorists believed monetary factors could not affect real factors such as real output. John Maynard Keynes attacked some of these "classical" theories and produced a general theory that described the whole economy in terms of aggregates rather than individual, microeconomic parts. Attempting to explain unemployment and recessions, he noticed the tendency for people and businesses to hoard cash and avoid investment during a recession. He argued that this invalidated the assumptions of classical economists who thought that markets always clear, leaving no surplus of goods and no willing labor left idle.
Inflationism is a heterodox economic, fiscal, or monetary policy, that predicts that a substantial level of inflation is harmless, desirable or even advantageous. Similarly, inflationist economists advocate for an inflationist policy.
Throughout modern history, a variety of perspectives on capitalism have evolved based on different schools of thought.
The new neoclassical synthesis (NNS) or new synthesis is the fusion of the major, modern macroeconomic schools of thought, new classical and New-Keynesianism, into a consensus on the best way to explain short-run fluctuations in the economy. This new synthesis is analogous to the neoclassical synthesis that combined neoclassical economics with Keynesian macroeconomics. The new synthesis provides the theoretical foundation for much of contemporary mainstream economics. It is an important part of the theoretical foundation for the work done by the Federal Reserve and many other central banks.