Tag Archives: Macroeconomics

“Topics in Macroeconomics,” Bern, Spring 2024

BA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Monday, 10:15–12:00. Location: H4, 115. Uni Bern’s official course page.

The course targets students who have completed their mandatory training in microeconomics, macroeconomics and mathematics and who want to make use of macroeconomic theory in order to analyze questions related to asset prices, bubbles, government debt, or the link between fiscal and monetary policy. The grade may depend on participation in class; small group projects; and/or a written exam.

“Macroeconomics II,” Bern, Fall 2023

MA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Monday 10:15-12:00. Location: A-126 UniS. Uni Bern’s official course page. Course assistant: Stefano Corbellini.

The course introduces Master students to modern macroeconomic theory. Building on the analysis of the consumption-saving tradeoff and on concepts from general equilibrium theory, the course covers workhorse general equilibrium models of modern macroeconomics, including the representative agent framework, the overlapping generations model, and the Lucas tree model.

Lectures follow chapters 1–4 (possibly 5) in this book.

“Makroökonomie I (Macroeconomics I),” Bern, Fall 2023

BA course at the University of Bern, taught in German.

Time: Monday 14:15-16:00. Location: Audimax. Uni Bern’s official course page. Course assistant: Wjera Yell Leutenegger.

Course description:

Die Vorlesung vermittelt einen ersten Einblick in die moderne Makroökonomie. Sie baut auf der Veranstaltung „Einführung in die Makroökonomie“ des Einführungsstudiums auf und betont sowohl die Mikrofundierung als auch dynamische Aspekte. Das heisst, sie interpretiert makroökonomische Entwicklungen als das Ergebnis zielgerichteten individuellen (mikroökonomischen) Handelns, und sie wird der Tatsache gerecht, dass wirtschaftliche Entscheidungen Erwartungen widerspiegeln und Konsequenzen in der Zukunft haben. Der klassische Modellrahmen, der in der Vorlesung entwickelt wird, bietet die Grundlage für die Analyse von Wachstum, Konsum, Arbeitsangebot, Investitionen oder Geld- und Fiskalpolitik sowie vieler anderer Themen, die auch in anderen Veranstaltungen des BA Studiums und darüber hinaus behandelt werden.

The course closely follows Pablo Kurlat’s (2020) textbook A Course in Modern Macroeconomics (book website). Lecture notes are available here. The following sections in the lecture notes are not covered in class and are not relevant for the exam:

  • Last pages of chapter 7, starting at p. 106;
  • last pages of chapter 9, starting at p. 128;
  • chapters B and C.

Other intermediate macro texts include

  • Julio Garín, Robert Lester and Eric Sims (2021): Intermediate Macroeconomics (book website, PDF).
  • Matthias Doepke, Andreas Lehnert and Andrew W. Sellgren (1999): Macroeconomics (PDF). (Written by (then) graduate students as a companion text to Robert J. Barro’s textbook Macroeconomics [publisher website].)
  • Stephen D. Williamson (2018): Macroeconomics (publisher website).

“Topics in Macroeconomics,” Bern, Spring 2023

BA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Monday, 10:15–12:00. Location: UniS, S101. Uni Bern’s official course page.

The course targets students who have completed their mandatory training in microeconomics, macroeconomics and mathematics and who are interested to make use of macroeconomic theory in order to analyze questions related to asset prices, bubbles, government debt, or the link between fiscal and monetary policy. The grade may depend on participation in class; small group projects; and/or a written exam.

“Macroeconomics II,” Bern, Fall 2022

MA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Monday 10:15-12:00. Location: A-126 UniS. Uni Bern’s official course page. Course assistant: Stefano Corbellini.

The course introduces Master students to modern macroeconomic theory. Building on the analysis of the consumption-saving tradeoff and on concepts from general equilibrium theory, the course covers workhorse general equilibrium models of modern macroeconomics, including the representative agent framework, the overlapping generations model, and the Lucas tree model.

Lectures follow chapters 1–4 (possibly 5) in this book.

“Makroökonomie I (Macroeconomics I),” Bern, Fall 2022

BA course at the University of Bern, taught in German.

Time: Monday 14:15-16:00. Location: Audimax. Uni Bern’s official course page. Course assistant: Wjera Yell Leutenegger.

Course description:

Die Vorlesung vermittelt einen ersten Einblick in die moderne Makroökonomie. Sie baut auf der Veranstaltung „Einführung in die Makroökonomie“ des Einführungsstudiums auf und betont sowohl die Mikrofundierung als auch dynamische Aspekte. Das heisst, sie interpretiert makroökonomische Entwicklungen als das Ergebnis zielgerichteten individuellen (mikroökonomischen) Handelns, und sie wird der Tatsache gerecht, dass wirtschaftliche Entscheidungen Erwartungen widerspiegeln und Konsequenzen in der Zukunft haben. Der klassische Modellrahmen, der in der Vorlesung entwickelt wird, bietet die Grundlage für die Analyse von Wachstum, Konsum, Arbeitsangebot, Investitionen oder Geld- und Fiskalpolitik sowie vieler anderer Themen, die auch in anderen Veranstaltungen des BA Studiums und darüber hinaus behandelt werden.

The course closely follows Pablo Kurlat’s (2020) textbook A Course in Modern Macroeconomics (book website). Lecture notes are available here.

Other intermediate macro texts:

  • Julio Garín, Robert Lester and Eric Sims (2021): Intermediate Macroeconomics (book website, PDF).
  • Matthias Doepke, Andreas Lehnert and Andrew W. Sellgren (1999): Macroeconomics (PDF). (Written by (then) graduate students as a companion text to Robert J. Barro’s textbook Macroeconomics [publisher website].)
  • Stephen D. Williamson (2018): Macroeconomics (publisher website).

“Macroeconomics II,” Bern, Fall 2021

MA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Wed 10-12. Location: A-126 UniS. Course assistant: Stefano Corbellini.

The course introduces Master students to modern macroeconomic theory. Building on the analysis of the consumption-saving tradeoff and on concepts from general equilibrium theory, the course covers workhorse general equilibrium models of modern macroeconomics, including the representative agent framework, the overlapping generations model, and the Lucas tree model. Lectures follow chapters 1–4 (possibly 5) in this book.

SARS-COV 2: Until further notice the course is offered on-site. It is our joint responsibility to reduce the risk of infection in class. Only students who satisfy two criteria should attend class: (i) They should not feel ill and (ii) they should be fully vaccinated or should recently have recovered from an infection or should have very recently tested negative. Students who do not satisfy (i) and (ii) should follow the class via podcast.

“Macroeconomics II,” Bern, Fall 2020

MA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Wed 10-12. KSL course site. Course assistant: Armando Näf.

The course introduces Master students to modern macroeconomic theory. Building on the analysis of the consumption-saving tradeoff and on concepts from general equilibrium theory, the course covers workhorse general equilibrium models of modern macroeconomics, including the representative agent framework, the overlapping generations model, and possibly the Lucas tree model. Lectures follow chapters 1–4 (possibly 5) in this book.

PDF copy of what I scribbled in class.

“Macroeconomic Analysis,” VoxEU, 2020

VoxEU, June 22, 2020. HTML.

Is macroeconomics useful? Of course. To make the point, academics must regain the interpretative high ground from market commentators. While it helps when policymakers understand fundamental macroeconomic concepts, it is equally important for the general public to grasp them. More, and how this relates to the new textbook, on VoxEU.

More Endorsements for “Macroeconomic Analysis”

“This is an excellent textbook for macroeconomics at the master’s or beginning PhD level. The topics and the material used to cover them are well chosen; the treatment gives a solid and unified background for positive and normative analysis. It strikes a good balance between being conceptually clear and logically consistent, and at the same time quite accessible.”
Fernando Alvarez, Saieh Family Professor of Economics, University of Chicago

Forthcoming, MIT Press.
MIT Press book page. My book page.

More Endorsements for “Macroeconomic Analysis”

“Finally, a book that fills the longstanding, and growing, gap between existing undergraduate and graduate macroeconomics textbooks. The winning approach of the author is to rigorously develop the core insights in each topic studied, avoiding superfluous diversions. The emphasis on government policy and political economy is especially useful in interpreting current global macroeconomic events.”
Gianluca Violante, Professor of Economics, Princeton University
(To be continued.)

Forthcoming, MIT Press.
MIT Press book page. My book page.

More Endorsements for “Macroeconomic Analysis”

“Niepelt’s textbook provides a concise, but rigorous introduction to the key concepts, tools, and models that constitute modern macroeconomic theory. His pedagogical approach, introducing the key building blocks of the theory one at a time, and focusing on what is essential at each stage, should make the learning experience a pleasant one. I expect it to become a staple reference in first-year graduate courses.”
Jordi Galí, CREI, Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Barcelona GSE
(To be continued.)

Forthcoming, MIT Press.
MIT Press book page. My book page.

More Endorsements for “Macroeconomic Analysis”

“Macroeconomic Analysis is the rare textbook that is both comprehensive and rigorous, as well as concise and simple. By staying focused on the core model of dynamic macroeconomics, it elegantly navigates through many topics. After studying this book, students will be ready to join the exciting debates in modern macroeconomics.”
Ricardo Reis, A. W. Phillips Professor of Economics, London School of Economics and Political Science
(To be continued.)

Forthcoming, MIT Press. Book page.

More Endorsements for “Macroeconomic Analysis”

“A needed, up-to-date primer on macroeconomic theory. It is comprehensive, covering all the essential topics, from optimal consumption and labor supply to economic growth, business cycles, and asset markets. It is thorough and rigorous, yet accessible, as it requires little prior knowledge of the key concepts and mathematical tools.”
George-Marios Angeletos, Professor of Economics, MIT
(To be continued.)

Forthcoming, MIT Press. Book page.

More Endorsements for “Macroeconomic Analysis”

“This book provides an excellent introduction into dynamic macroeconomics. Its analysis is deep, self-contained, and still concise. The chapters on labor search frictions, financial frictions, and money are an extra plus and make it a superb choice for a first-year PhD or advanced Masters’ course in macroeconomics.”
Markus Brunnermeier, Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Economics, Princeton University

(To be continued.)

Forthcoming, MIT Press. Book page.

Arnold Kling’s “Specialization and Trade, A Re-Introduction to Economics”

Arnold Kling (2016), Specialization and Trade, A Re-Introduction to Economics, Washington, DC, Cato Institute.

Kling’s central theme in this short book of nine main chapters is that specialization, trade, and the coordination of individual plans by means of the price system and the profit motive play fundamental roles in modern economies. Most mainstream economists would agree with this assessment. Their models of trade, growth, and innovation certainly include the four elements, with varying emphasis.

But Kling criticizes the methodological approach adopted by post-world-war-II economics, which he associates with “MIT economics.” An MIT PhD himself, he argues that economics, and specifically macroeconomics, should adopt less of a mechanistic and more of an evolutionary perspective to gain relevance. In the second chapter, entitled “Machine as Metaphor,” Kling asserts that under the leadership of Paul Samuelson post-war (macro)economics framed economic issues as programming problems that resemble resource allocation problems in a wartime economy. Even as the discipline evolved, Kling contends, the methodology remained the same, pretending controllability by economist-engineers; in the process, the role of specialization was sidelined in the analysis.

I think that Kling is too harsh in his assessment. Economics and macroeconomics, in particular, has changed dramatically since the times of Paul Samuelson. The notion that, given enough instruments, any economic problem can be solved as easily as a system of equations, has lost attraction. Modern macroeconomic models are based on microeconomic primitives; they take gains from trade seriously; they involve expectations and frictions; and they do not suggest easy answers. The task of modern macroeconomics is not to spit out a roadmap for the economist-engineer but to understand mechanisms and identify problems that arise from misaligned incentives.

Kling is right, of course, when he argues that many theoretical models are too simplistic to be taken at face value. But this is not a critique against economic research which must focus and abstract in order to clarify. It rather is a critique against professional policy advisors and forecasters, “economic experts” say. These “experts” face the difficult task of surveying the vast variety of mechanisms identified by academic research and to apply judgement when weighing their relevance for a particular real-world setting. To be useful, “experts” must not rely on a single framework and extrapolation. Instead, they must base their analysis on a wide set of frameworks to gain independent perspectives on a question of interest.

In chapters three to five, Kling discusses in more detail the interplay of myriads of specialized trading partners in a market economy and how prices and the profit motive orchestrate it. In the chapter entitled “Instructions and Incentives,” Kling emphasizes that prices signal scarcity and opportunity costs are subjective. In the chapter entitled “Choices and Commands,” he discusses that command-and-control approaches to organizing a society face information, incentive, and innovation problems, unlike approaches that rely on a functioning price mechanism. And in the chapter “Specialization and Sustainability,” Kling makes the point that well-defined property rights and a functioning price mechanism offer the best possible protection for scarce resources and a guarantee for their efficient use. Sustainability additionally requires mechanisms to secure intergenerational equity.

I agree with Kling’s point that we should be humble when assessing whether market prices, which reflect the interplay of countless actors, are “right” or “wrong.” However, I would probably be prepared more often than Kling to acknowledge market failures of the type that call for corrective taxes. The general point is that Kling’s views expressed in the three chapters seem entirely mainstream. While we may debate how often and strongly market prices fail to account for social costs and benefits, the economics profession widely agrees that for a price system to function well this precondition must be satisfied.

In the sixth chapter, entitled “Trade and Trust,” Kling argues that specialization rests on cultural evolution and learning and more broadly, that modern economic systems require institutions that promote trust. Independently of the norms a particular society adopts, it must implement the basic social rule,

[r]eward cooperators and punish defectors.

How this is achieved (even if it is against the short-run interest of an individual) varies. Incentive mechanisms may be built on the rule of law, religion, or reputation. And as Kling points out societies almost always rely on some form of government to implement the basic social rule. In turn, this creates problems of abuse of power as well as “deception” and “demonization.” Mainstream economists would agree. In fact, incentive and participation constraints, lack of commitment, enforcement, and self-enforcement are at center stage in many of their models of partial or general equilibrium. Similarly, the role of government, whether benevolent or representing the interests of lobby groups and elites, is a key theme in modern economics.

Chapter seven, entitled “Finance and Fluctuations,” deals with the role of the financial sector. Kling argues that finance is a key prerequisite for specialization and since trust is a prerequisite for finance, swings in trust—waves of optimism and pessimism—affect the economy. No mainstream macroeconomist will object to the notion that the financial sector can amplify shocks. Seminal articles (which all were published well before the most recent financial crisis) exactly make that point. But Kling is probably right that the profession’s workhorse models have not yet been able to incorporate moods, fads, and manias, the reputation of intermediaries, and the confidence of their clients in satisfactory and tractable ways, in spite of recent path-breaking work on the role of heterogenous beliefs.

In chapter eight, Kling focuses on “Policy in Practice.” He explains why identifying market failure in a model is not the same as convincingly arguing for government intervention, simply because first, the model may be wrong and second, there is no reason to expect government intervention to be frictionless. I don’t know any well-trained academic economist who would disagree with this assessment (but many “experts” who are very frighteningly confident about their level of understanding). The profession is well aware of the insights from Public Choice and Political Economics, although these insights might not be as widely taught as they deserve. And Kling is right that economists could explain better why real-world policy selection and implementation can give rise to new problems rather than solely focusing on the issue of how an ideal policy might improve outcomes.

To me, the most interesting chapters of the book are the first and the last, entitled “Filling in Frameworks” and “Macroeconomics and Misgivings,” respectively. In the first chapter, Kling discusses the difference between the natural sciences and economics. He distinguishes between scientific propositions, which a logical flaw or a contradictory experiment falsifies, and “interpretive frameworks” a.k.a. Kuhn’s paradigms, which cannot easily be falsified. Kling argues that

[i]n natural science, there are relatively many falsifiable propositions and relatively few attractive interpretive frameworks. In the social sciences, there are relatively many attractive interpretive frameworks and relatively few falsifiable propositions.

According to Kling, economic models are interpretative frameworks, not scientific propositions, because they incorporate a plethora of auxiliary assumptions and since experiments of the type run in the natural sciences are beyond reach in the social sciences. Anomalies or puzzles do not lead economists to reject their models right away as long as the latter remain useful paradigms to work with. And rightly so, according to Kling: For an interpretative framework with all its anomalies is less flawed than intuition which is uninformed by a framework. At the same time, economists should remain humble, acknowledge the risk of confirmation bias, and remain open to competing interpretative frameworks.

In the chapter entitled “Macroeconomics and Misgivings,” Kling criticizes macroeconomists’ reliance on models with a representative agent. I agree that representative agent models are irrelevant for applied questions when the model implications strongly depend on the assumption that households are literally alike, or that markets are complete such that heterogeneous agents can perfectly insure each other. When “experts” forecast macroeconomic outcomes based on models with a homogeneous household sector then these forecasts rest on very heroic assumptions, as any well-trained economist will readily acknowledge. Is this a problem for macroeconomics which, by the way, has made a lot of progress in modeling economies with heterogeneous agents and incomplete markets? I don’t think so. But it is a problem when “experts” use such inadequate models for policy advice.

Kling argues that the dynamic process of creative destruction that characterizes modern economies requires ongoing change in the patterns of specialization and trade and that this generates unemployment. Mainstream models of innovation and growth capture this process, at least partially; they explain how investment in new types of capital and “ideas” can generate growth and structural change. And the standard framework for modeling labor markets features churn and unemployment (as well as search and matching) although, admittedly, it does not contain a detailed description of the sources of churn. The difference between the mainstream’s and Kling’s view of how the macroeconomy operates thus appears to be a difference of degree rather than substance. And the difference between these views and existing models clearly also reflects the fact that modeling creative destruction and its consequences is difficult.

Kling is a sharp observer when he talks about the difference between “popular Keynesianism” and “rigor-seeking Keynesianism.” The former is what underlies the thinking of many policy makers, central bankers, or journalists: a blend of the aggregate-demand logic taught to undergraduates and some supply side elements. The latter is a tractable simplification of a micro-founded dynamic general equilibrium model with frictions whose properties resemble some key intuitions from popular Keynesianism.

The two forms of Keynesianism help support each other. Popular Keynesianism is useful for trying to convince the public that macroeconomists understand macroeconomic fluctuations and how to control them. Rigor-seeking Keynesianism is used to beat back objections raised by economists who are concerned with the ways in which Keynesianism deviates from standard economics, even though the internal obsessions of rigor-seeking Keynesianism have no traction with those making economic policy.

There is truth to this. But in my view, this critique does not undermine the academic, rigor-seeking type of Keynesianism while it should undermine our trust in “experts” who work with the popular sort which, as Kling explains, mostly is confusing for a trained economist.

In the end, Kling concludes that it is the basics that matter most:

[B]etter economic outcomes arise when patterns of sustainable specialization and trade are formed. … It requires the creative, decentralized, trial-and-error efforts of thousands of entrepreneurs and millions of households … Probably the best thing that the government can do to encourage new forms of specialization is to rethink existing policies that restrict competition, discourage innovation, and retard mobility.

This is a reasonable conclusion. But it is neither a falsifiable proposition nor an interpretive framework. It is the synthesis of many interpretive frameworks, weighed by Kling. In my own view, the weighting is based on too harsh an assessment according to which many modern macroeconomic models are irrelevant.

Kling’s criticism of contemporaneous macroeconomics reads like a criticism of the kind of macroeconomics still taught at the undergraduate level. But modern macroeconomics has moved on—it is general equilibrium microeconomics. Its primary objective is not to produce the one and only model for economist-engineers or “experts” to use, but rather to help us understand mechanisms. A good expert knows many models, is informed about institutions, and has the courage to judge which of the models (or mechanisms they identify) are the most relevant in a specific context. We don’t need a new macroeconomics. But maybe we need better “experts.”

“Monetary Economic Issues Today,” Panel, 2017

Panel discussion with Ernst Baltensperger, Otmar Issing, Fritz Zurbrügg and Mark Dittli (moderator) on the occasion of the publication of the Festschrift in honour of Ernst Baltensperger, Bern, June 16, 2017. SNB press release. Video (SNB Forschungs-TV).

“Monetary Economic Issues Today,” Orell Füssli, 2017

Festschrift in Honour of Ernst Baltensperger, Swiss National Bank/Orell Füssli, Zürich, June 2017, with Thomas Moser, Carlos Lenz, and Marcel Savioz, editorial committee. Publisher’s website.

From the publisher’s website:

»Eine Welt ohne ein gut funktionierendes Zahlungssystem, ohne Geld- und andere Wertaufbewahrungsanlagen, ohne zuverlässige Recheneinheit, das wäre eine Welt mit einem viel tieferen Wohlstandsniveau,in der wir nicht mehr leben möchten.«
Ernst Baltensperger

Ursachen und Folgen der Finanzkrise sind komplex. Zentralbanken und Regulatoren sahen sich gezwungen, in vielerlei Hinsicht unbekanntes Terrain zu betreten. Die ökonomische Forschung wurde mit vielen neuen, oft grundlegenden Fragen zum Finanzsystem und zur Wirtschaftspolitik konfrontiert und ringt bis heute um Antworten.

Diese Festschrift gibt zehn Jahre nach dem Ausbruch der Finanzkrise einen Einblick in die Fragen, mit denen sich die monetäre Ökonomie heute befasst. Sie wird von der Schweizerischen Nationalbank zum 75. Geburtstag von Ernst Baltensperger – einem international renommierten Experten der Geldpolitik und Geldtheorie – herausgegeben.

Elektronisches Geld, unkonventionelle Geldpolitik, negative Zinsen – mit welchen Fragen befasst sich die Wirtschaftswissenschaft heute, und welche Antworten liefert sie?

27 Beiträge von Experten der Makro-, Geld-, Banken und Finanzmarktökonomie für ein besseres Verständnis der Zusammenhänge und Strukturen.

Die kurze und allgemein verständlichen Texte sind für den interessierten Laien – auf Deutsch, Französisch oder Englisch verfasst.

On the State of Macroeconomics

In a paper, Ricardo Reis defends macroeconomics against various critiques. He concludes:

I have argued that while there is much that is wrong with macroeconomics today, most critiques of the state of macroeconomics are off target. Current macroeconomic research is not mindless DSGE modeling filled with ridiculous assumptions and oblivious of data. Rather, young macroeconomists are doing vibrant, varied, and exciting work, getting jobs, and being published. Macroeconomics informs economic policy only moderately and not more nor all that differently than other fields in economics. Monetary policy has benefitted significantly from this advice in keeping inflation under control and preventing a new Great Depression. Macroeconomic forecasts perform poorly in absolute terms and given the size of the challenge probably always will. But relative to the level of aggregation, the time horizon, and the amount of funding, they are not so obviously worst than those in other fields. What is most wrong with macroeconomics today is perhaps that there is too little discussion of which models to teach and too little investment in graduate-level textbooks.