Associated Programs

Explorations in Theory and Empirical Analysis

Explorations in Theory and Empirical Analysis

On occasion, scholars at the Levy Institute conduct research that does not fall within a current program or general topic area. Such study might include examination of a subject of particular policy interest, empirical research that has grown out of work in a current program area, or initial exploration in an area being considered for a new research program. Recent studies have included those on Harrodian growth models, the economic consequences of German reunification, and campaign finance reform.

Research Program

Economic Policy for the 21st Century

Program Publications

  • Working Paper No. 986 | March 2021
    Evolution and Contemporary Relevance
    This paper traces the evolution of John Maynard Keynes’s theory of the business cycle from his early writings in 1913 to his policy prescriptions for the control of fluctuations in the early 1940s. The paper identifies six different “theories” of business fluctuations. With different theoretical frameworks in a 30-year span, the driver of fluctuations—namely cyclical changes in expectations about future returns—remained substantially the same. The banking system also played a pivotal role throughout the different versions, by financing and influencing the behavior of return expectations. There are four major changes in the evolution of Keynes’s business cycle theories: a) the saving–investment framework to understand changes in economic fluctuations; b) the capabilities of the banking system to moderate the business cycle; c) the effectiveness of monetary policy to fine tune the business cycle through the control of the short-term interest rate or credit conditions; and d) the role of a comprehensive fiscal policy and investment policy to attenuate fluctuations. Finally, some conclusions are drawn about the present relevance of the policy mix Keynes promoted for ensuring macroeconomic stability.

  • Working Paper No. 974 | October 2020
    Financial Instability and Crises in Keynes’s Monetary Thought
    This paper revisits Keynes’s writings from Indian Currency and Finance (1913) to The General Theory (1936) with a focus on financial instability. The analysis reveals Keynes’s astute concerns about the stability/fragility of the banking system, especially under deflationary conditions. Keynes’s writings during the Great Depression uncover insights into how the Great Depression may have informed his General Theory. Exploring the connection between the experience of the Great Depression and the theoretical framework Keynes presents in The General Theory, the assumption of a constant money stock featuring in that work is central. The analysis underscores the case that The General Theory is not a special case of the (neo-)classical theory that is relevant only to “depression economics”—refuting the interpretation offered by J. R. Hicks (1937) in his seminal paper “Mr. Keynes and the Classics: A Suggested Interpretation.” As a scholar of the Great Depression and Federal Reserve chairman at the time of the modern crisis, Ben Bernanke provides an important intellectual bridge between the historical crisis of the 1930s and the modern crisis of 2007–9. The paper concludes that, while policy practice has changed, the “classical” theory Keynes attacked in 1936 remains hegemonic today. The common (mis-)interpretation of The General Theory as depression economics continues to describe the mainstream’s failure to engage in relevant monetary economics.

  • Working Paper No. 957 | June 2020
    The Long Period Method, Technical Change, and Gender
    This paper presents a critique of Karl Marx’s labor theory of value and his theory of falling profit rates from an intersectional political economy perspective. Specifically, I rely on social reproduction theory to propose that Marx-biased technical change disrupts the social order and leads to competition between workers. The bargaining power of workers cannot be dissociated from class struggle within the working class. I argue that technical change increases social conflict, which can counterbalance the long-run tendency of the profit rate to fall. The conclusion is that class struggle is multilayered and endogenous to the process of accumulation.

  • Working Paper No. 953 | April 2020
    Some Empirical Issues
    The paper makes three contributions. First, following up on Nikiforos (2016), it provides an in-depth examination of the Federal Reserve measure of capacity utilization and shows that it is closer to a cyclical indicator than a measure of long run variations of normal utilization. Other measures, such as the average workweek of capital or the national emergency utilization rate are more appropriate for examining long-run changes in utilization. Second, and related to that, it argues that a relatively stationary measure of utilization is not consistent with any theory of the determination of utilization. Third, based on data on the lifetime of fixed assets it shows that for the issues around the “utilization controversy” the long run is a period after thirty years or more. This makes it a Platonic Idea for some economic problems.

  • Working Paper No. 952 | April 2020
    Some Theoretical Issues
    This paper discusses some issues related to the triangle between capital accumulation, distribution, and capacity utilization. First, it explains why utilization is a crucial variable for the various theories of growth and distribution—more precisely, with regards to their ability to combine an autonomous role for demand (along Keynesian lines) and an institutionally determined distribution (along classical lines). Second, it responds to some recent criticism by Girardi and Pariboni (2019). I explain that their interpretation of the model in Nikiforos (2013) is misguided, and that the results of the model can be extended to the case of a monopolist. Third, it provides some concrete examples of why demand is a determinant for the long-run rate of utilization of capital. Finally, it argues that when it comes to the normal rate of utilization, it is the expected growth rate of demand that matters, not the level of demand.

  • Working Paper No. 949 | February 2020
    This paper extends the empirical stock-flow consistent (SFC) literature through the introduction of distributional features and labor market institutions in a Godley-type empirical SFC model. In particular, labor market institutions, such as the minimum wage and the collective bargaining coverage rate, are considered as determinants of the wage share and, in turn, of the distribution of national income. Thereby, the model is able to examine both the medium-term stability conditions of the economy via the evolution of the sectoral financial balances and the implications of functional income distribution on the growth prospects of the economy at hand. The model is then applied to the Greek economy. The empirical results indicate that the Greek economy has a significant structural competitiveness deficit, while the institutional regime is likely debt-led. The policies implemented in the context of the economic adjustment programs were highly inappropriate, triggering private sector insolvency. A minimum wage increase is projected to have a positive impact on output growth and employment. However, policies that would enhance the productive sector’s structural competitiveness are required in order to ensure the growth prospects of the Greek economy.

  • Working Paper No. 946 | February 2020
    A Comment on Autor and Salomons
    We show that Autor and Salomons’ (2017, 2018) analysis of the impact of technical progress on employment growth is problematic. When they use labor productivity growth as a proxy for technical progress, their regressions are quasi-accounting identities that omit one variable of the identity. Consequently, the coefficient of labor productivity growth suffers from omitted-variable bias, where the omitted variable is known. The use of total factor productivity (TFP) growth as a proxy for technical progress does not solve the problem. Contrary to what the profession has argued for decades, we show that this variable is not a measure of technical progress. This is because TFP growth derived residually from a production function, together with the conditions for producer equilibrium, can also be derived from an accounting identity without any assumption. We interpret TFP growth as a measure of distributional changes. This identity also indicates that Autor and Salomons’ estimates of TFP growth’s impact on employment growth are biased due to the omission of the other variables in the identity. Overall, we conclude that their work does not shed light on the question they address.

  • Working Paper No. 943 | January 2020
    Whether China’s low fertility rate is the consequence of the country’s strict population control policy is a puzzling question. This paper attempts to disentangle the Chinese population control policy’s impacts on the fertility rate from socioeconomic factors using the synthetic control method proposed by Abadie and Gardeazabal (2003). The results indicate that the population control policy significantly decreased China’s birth rate after the “Later, Longer, and Fewer” policy came into force, but had little effect on the birth rate in the long run. We estimate that between 164.2 million and 268.3 million prevented births from 1971 to 2016 can be attributed to the Chinese population control policy. In addition, we implement a placebo study to check the validity of the method and confirm the robustness of the paper’s conclusions.

  • Working Paper No. 942 | January 2020
    This paper emphasizes the need for understanding the interdependencies between the real and financial sides of the economy in macroeconomic models. While the real side of the economy is generally well explained in macroeconomic models, the financial side and its interaction with the real economy remains poorly understood. This paper makes an attempt to model the interdependencies between the real and financial sides of the economy in Denmark while adopting a stock-flow consistent approach. The model is estimated using Danish data for the period 1995–2016. The model is simulated to create a baseline scenario for the period 2017–30, against which the effects of two standard shocks (fiscal shocks and interest rate shocks) are analyzed. Overall, our model is able to replicate the stylized facts, as will be discussed. While the model structure is fairly simple due to different constraints, the use of the stock-flow approach makes it possible to explain several transmission mechanisms through which real economic behavior can affect the balance sheets, and at the same time capture the feedback effects from the balance sheets to the real economy. Finally, we discuss certain limitations of our model.

  • Working Paper No. 940 | November 2019
    A Rejoinder and Some Comments
    The critique by Gahn and González (2019) of the conclusions in Nikiforos (2016) regarding what data should be used to evaluate whether capacity utilization is endogenous to demand is weak for the following reasons: (i) The Federal Reserve Board (FRB) measure of utilization is not appropriate for measuring long-run variations of utilization because of the method and purpose of its construction. Even if its difference from the measures of the average workweek of capital (AWW) were trivial, this would still be the case; if anything, it would show that the AWW is also an inappropriate measure. (ii) Gahn and González choose to ignore the longest available estimate of the AWW produced by Foss, which has a clear long-run trend. (iii) Their econometric results are not robust to more suitable specifications of the unit root tests. Under these specifications, the tests overwhelmingly fail to reject the unit root hypothesis. (iv) Other estimates of the AWW, which were not included in Nikiforos (2016) confirm these conclusions. (v) For the comparison between the AWW series and the FRB series, they construct variables that are not meaningful because they subtract series in different units. When the comparison is done correctly, the results confirm that the difference between the AWW series and the FRB series has a unit root. (vi) A stationary utilization rate is not consistent with any theory of the determination of capacity utilization. Even if demand did not play a role, there is no reason to expect that all the other factors that determine utilization would change in a fashion that would keep utilization constant.