How I Came To No Longer Be A Kaldorian Economist

How I Came To No Longer Be A Kaldorian Economist

Yes, for a period of time, according to some sources, I was a member of the “Kaldorian” school of Post Keynesian  economic thought, although I had not previously thought of myself as such, indeed, had been unaware that there even was such a school of economic thought.  But now, according to such sources, I am no longer a member of such a school.  Indeed, it is not clear that there even is such a school, if there ever was.  This is a tale of the ongoing tangle of schools of Post Keynesian economics, as well as how Wikipedia operates, and more broadly the history of economic thought.

I note that while it lasted, this matter was taken at least somewhat seriously.  So, a few years ago I was at a conference and walked into a plenary address that was being given by Tyler Cowen of George Mason.  There was a pretty large crowd, but Tyler interrupted his talk when I came in to note, “I see that Barkley Rosser has entered the room, so I had better be careful what I say about Nicholas Kaldor.”  Indeed, ironically, he was just about to say something about Kaldor, and I must say that I had no serious disagreement with his remarks, although maybe he cleaned up his act, given my presence as the representative of “the Kaldorian School,” if not the late Lord Kaldor’s personal representative.  That was then, but this is now, and I am nothing, nothing, I tell you!

Anyway, as I said, I had not been aware of such a school, much less that I was supposedly a part of it, but then in 2014, my friend Marc Lavoie published his excellent Post-Keynesian Economics: New Foundations.  In it he provided set of supposed schools of Post Keynesian economic thought.  I note that there has long been a history of arguing and battling and generally warring among various strands of Post Keynesian thought, with some expelling others, although not necessarily totally.  Joan Robinson coined the term back in the 1950s, and for a while Paul Samuelson was using the term for an eclectic bunch of Keynesian economists of the early 1960s.  But the term became narrower as the 1960s moved on and journals were started, and battle lines were drawn.  Going into the 1980s, and focused on Post-Keynesian summer schools being held in Trieste, Italy, there was a sharp split between Sraffian neo-Ricardians based in Italy, led by the late Pierangelo Garegnani, and American Post Keynesians who focused on uncertainty and the role of money led by Paul Davidson.  In between them was a more British and Australian based group, some of whom were thought to be followers of Michal Kalecki, and probably Joan Robinson, some of whom made efforts to overcome the sharp split between these other two.  The most important leader of that group was probably Geoff Harcourt, he of the “different horses for different courses,” how open-minded of him.  Anyway, those summer schools fell apart, with each of the more sharply opposed groups not attending the seminars of the other, and after this the Americans all but expelling the Italian Sraffian-neo-Ricardians from Post Keynesianism, even if they were still counted by others.

Well, Marc moved beyond this to list five different schools of Post Keynesian thought, providing a small group of people supposedly in each of these groups.  They were fundamentalists, which included Davidson (who has long emphasized going back to Keynes to see what he wrote), Kaleckians, and Sraffians, which pretty much gave us what appeared to have come out of the 1980s arguments.  But then he added two more, Institutionalists and (ah ha!) Kaldorians.  This last group had in it, of course, Kaldor himself, as well as three other dead men: Wynne Godley, Richard Goodwin, and Roy Harrod. A leading Institutionalist was John Kenneth Galbraith on his list.  As it is, I suspect that Marc coined this supposed school of “Kaldorians” because he himself identified with it.  He was disgusted, as have been many of us, with the wrangling warfare between the fundamentalists, Sraffians, and Kaleckians.  So, cook up another school.  My bet that he views himself as part of the Kaldorians is that he coauthored a lot with Wynne Godley, and he identified an interest in nonlinear dynamics as part of Kaldorianism, which indeed was an interest of Kaldor who emphasized economies of scale as breaking down neoclassical equilibrias.

Needless to say, I have long been interested in nonlinear dynamics, so that set up the next development.  That was that on the Wikipedia entry for “Post-Keynesian economics,” somebody imported Marc’s lists and then added to them massively, but then replaced the Institutionalists with the Modern Monetary School (MMT), led by people like Randy Wray and Warren Mosler and Stephanie Kelton.  On these longer lists, there I was in with people like Godley and Goodwin (whom I especially admire) on the list of the supposed Kaldorian strand of Post Keynesian economics. Hot stuff, whoop de doo.  Not long after that, there I was with Tyler Cowen publicly identifiying me as one, although when I discussed the matter with Marc Lavoie himself, I think he was sort of annoyed that somehow I had gotten added to this list.  As it is, I do not know who put that stuff in the Wikipedia entry, although I saw such a list put up on the internet by a blogger calling him(her?)self “Lord Keynes.”  Yeah, some people are a bit full  of themselves.

I had not checked on any of this for some time but was revising a paper for a journal in which I and coauthors quoted Kaldor on equilibrium, (“Consistency and Completeness in General Equilibrium” with Simone Landini and Mauro Gallegati).  Looking at the quote I thought I would check on this on Wikipedia, only to find that those lists of schools are gone.  The verbiage starts out mentioning Kalecki, Joan Robinson, Kaldor, Davidson, Sraffa, and Jan Kregel, also noting Robert Skidelsky’s role in defining Keynesianism.  It then later mentions the Cambridge capital controversy, Sraffa and the neo-Ricardians are mentioned.  Kaldor is mentioned as is Paul Davison.  Then money circuit theory is mentioned as is modern monetary theory (MMT).  Wynne Godley and Hyman Minsky (who always rejected the “Post Keynesian” label for himself) get mentioned, with final shoutouts to chartalism and functional finance, both well regarded by the MMT school (there is also a tour of nations and journals and groups).  This is followed by a list of 26 supposed “leading first and second generation” Post-Keynesian economists, of whom I note that 14 are dead.  I list them here for the record:

Victoria Chick, Alfred Eichner, James Crotty, Paul Davidson, Wynne Godley, Geoff Harcourt, Michael Hudson, Nicholas Kaldor, Michal Kalecki, Fred Lee, Augustus Graziani, Steve Keen, Marc Lavoie, Paolo Leon, Abba Lerner, Hyman Minsky, Basil Moore, Ed Nell, Luigi Psinetti, Joan Robinson, George Shackle, A.P. Thirlwall (who once wrote a book about “Kaldorian economics”), Fernando Vianello, William Vickrey, and Sidney Weintraub.

Just to further stir the pot, there is now a new post about “Post-Keynesian economics” up on Rational Wiki, whatever it is.  It has clearly been put up by strong advocates of the MMT school, whom many think view themselves as the true heirs and new leaders of Post Keynesian economics.  If that is the case, this Rational Wiki post would appear to be part of that effort.  After a very brief boilerplate opening, modern monetary theory is presented as the main idea in Post Keynesian economics.  That is it. The rest can go shove it.  The list of external links go to sites run by Warren Mosler, Stephanie Kelton, Steve Keen (more a Minsky-money circuit guy than a hard core MMT person), and two to Bill Mitchell, up there with Mosler and Kelton as an MMT leading figure.  There is a further external links list that go to John Maynard Keynes, Dean Baker, and “Market monetarism.”  I think Dean Baker mostly thinks of himself as a Post Keynesian economist, but has mostly stayed out of all these controversies.

Anyway, probably this is all  just picking at minor niggling and unmportant divisions and wrangles, but standing back from it I find it curious, both in terms of the development of these labels and controversies, as well as what the heck is going on with the Wikipedia accounts of all this.  On the latter, this makes me more skeptical of Wikipedia, having also recently run into some outright errors on that source I shall not get into, but just encourages me in continuing to refuse to accept Wikipedia as a source on papers by either students or actual professional economists.

Barkley Rosser