Monday, July 29, 2013

Say's Law Keynesians

In the 1990s Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the one time sociologist and dependency theory author, turned politician and president of Brazil said that people should forget about what he had written in the past (on dependency theory). Something similar could be said about the economists at Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro, who were the main economic advisors to Cardoso during his presidency.* They seem to have forgotten what they wrote in the past.

An interesting case of the switcheroo from heterodox to mainstream is Edward Amadeo (Labor Minister during the Cardoso administration, even though he had connections to the Worker's Party up to the early 1990s), author of a very good book on Keynes (Keynes' Principle of Effective Demand), based on his dissertation at Harvard supervised by Murray Milgate and co-supervised by Lance Taylor (who was at MIT at that time), with a preface by Vicky Chick. The book is still the best interpretation of Keynes' General Theory, and its relation with the Treatise on Money.

Among other things Amadeo shows that the conventional view which assumes that Keynes moved from an interpretation of the system with flexible prices and fixed quantities in the Treatise to one of fixed prices and flexible quantities in The General Theory (GT), as interpreted by Leijonhufvud for example (see his classic On Keynesian Economics and the Economics of Keynes), is incompatible with a careful reading of chapter 19 of the GT (Amadeo, 1989, p. 4).

Further, Amadeo correctly points out that the transition from the Treatise to the GT involves a change from a dynamic theory of the trade cycle in historical time to an equilibrium theory of the level of output, one in which the flexibility of prices does not guarantee full employment. And obviously the level of activity is determined by demand. Amadeo also wrote a few papers on what we would now call the Kaleckian models of growth (see here; subscription required).

That is why is interesting to read a recent paper by Amadeo (in Portuguese here; originally published in O Globo). He says that Cardoso's agenda, which would have been carried by Serra (defeated presidential candidate in 2002), would have:
"redoubled the emphasis on education, promoted savings, done the labor reform, flattened the tax structure, promoted global integration, invested in infrastructure and modernized the public administration."
Note that the emphasis is on supply-side policies (with the exception of investment in infrastructure, which was actually accelerated during the Lula administration so-called PAC). And yes he suggests that savings would have lead presumably to investment and growth in a typical Solow model result, meaning Say's Law.

One could go on and discuss the other incompatibilities with almost all his previous work (not sure if he wrote something theoretical in a neoclassical perspective), for example the defense of labor reform (meaning lower wages) to promote growth and employment (the opposite of what the GT says). Or the silliness of suggesting at this point that more liberalization (global integration) along the lines of the Washington Consensus would really work. Or the fact, that he seems to believe that fiscal adjustment is necessary now in Brazil and that this would be compatible with higher growth (contractionary expansions).

But the remarkable thing is at the end of the day the complete 180 degree change in theoretical perspective, with no justification of what made him change his mind. I assume that in his case we can paraphrase Keynes and suggest that when proven correct, he changes his mind.

* Other economists close to Cardoso, like Serra from the more radical Unicamp, also moved to the right, favoring privatization and fiscal adjustment, but arguably abandoned academic economics long ago, being like Cardoso politicians. Finally, some economists from the Fundação Getúlio Vargas from São Paulo, like Bresser Pereira, remained more heterodox, and defend now something called New Developmenatlism. I'll leave comments on that for another post.


  1. Another good example is José Márcio Camargo. I remember attending one of his classes in PUC about development economics and labour market about 3 years ago and he mentioned that he never quite understood this thing about effective demand. Oh well.

  2. Looking forward to your post on the new developmentalism.